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Exclusive: What is happening at Jigsaw?

After a mass boardroom exodus, questions have been raised over who is running Jigsaw. Drapers investigates.

This week, it came to light that six Jigsaw board members and interim CEO Toby Foreman had stepped down from the fashion retailer to “streamline” the business amid the coronavirus crisis. 

Outgoing board members include brand consultants Isabel Spearman and Silvana Rossi, who joined last summer. Also stepping down is former head of finance at property group Land Securities Despina Don-Wauchope, who joined last May as finance director. Former TalkTalk executive Richard Walker, Glasses Direct entrepreneur James Murray-Wells, and David Hall also left the board in the last month.  

Drapers can also reveal that former Sports England regional director Joanna Robinson, who was advising the company, left in February. Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross, who had stepped in as an adviser and stakeholder with a £20m cash injection, is also not advising anymore. He remains a shareholder.

The company said the departures are part of its effort to “ensure the business is more agile and better placed to deal with the challenges posed by the current outbreak”. It said: “Now is the right time to have a smaller board that is fully focused on helping us get through this difficult period and on reopening our stores when it is safe to do so.”

The mass exodus follows a string of resignations over the past year: In September 2019 Kate Holt, Jigsaw’s omnichannel director, left the business in September after nine years. Chairman Charles Atterton retired in January 2019 after more than 20 years at the company and CEO Chris Stephenson left in the same month after six months at the retailer. 

Claire Wain, chief finance officer, exited for Jack Wills in March 2019 and global buying and merchandising director, Shailina Parti, departed in May 2019 after five years at the business

It is unclear whether the board members stepped down, or were asked to leave. 

”David Ross had brought people on board that he believed were right for the company and his vision, but there was a lack of board experience from people who understand product and the retail industry”, one former Jigsaw employee added. 

”They don’t seem to have delivered, and [the situation at Jigsaw] has obviously gotten worse. The coronavirus has also probably had an effect too.” 

In its latest financial report, the parent company of Jigsaw, Robinson Webster (Holdings), reported a 2% decline in group turnover to £102m in the year to 29 September 2018. Gross profit margin for the group was 63%, compared with 62.5% in 2017. Its operating loss jumped 1,800% from £500,000 to £9.5m. Underlying adjusted EBITDA fell 85% to £400,000.

So who is running the business? 

Director of protective clothing provider Ballyclare Carlton Greener is understood to have joined the company as a director in April this year. 

Jigsaw has confirmed that Joanna Sykes, who joined in June 2019 as creative director, remains at the company in the same role. Former chairman Atterton is still a non-executive director. 

Meanwhile, a Jigsaw spokesman told Drapers that former Karen Millen chief executive Beth Butterwick “is working as a consultant operating partner supporting the board to help Jigsaw through this challenging trading environment”.

Butterwick joined the retailer at the end of January to work on a “project”. She is now remodelling the business with a heavy focus on digital, Drapers can reveal. 

Another former Jigsaw director told Drapers: “Beth Butterwick has come in as a consultant and is also covering Toby’s role since he left.” 

Jigsaw did not disclose which other board members and directors remain, raising questions across the industry. 

One former womenswear CEO said: “It is very weird that no one is breaking cover to ‘tell all’. They are creating a mystery by not being open and revealing the truth as to why people have left, and who is left.”

However, industry observers said Butterwick needs to operate fast to help pick the business up off the ground. 

The former womenswear CEO said: “Jigsaw should go back to its DNA of luxury fabrics and simple classic designs. They should increase prices when they do this. Pieces should be relaxed and easy to wear, and they should cut back on the number of items and segment their ranges clearly.”

Butterwick and Sykes undoubtedly have their work cut out. However, with Butterwick’s longstanding fashion retail leadership background, she is more than capable of piecing the retailer and its team back together. 

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