Position last year: 1
It has been another controversy-filled year for Mike Ashley, but one in which his retail deals have continued to dominate the sports and young fashion markets as well as the media headlines.
The year kicked off with young fashion chain USC being fed to the administrators, only for it to be bought out by fellow Sports Direct-owned chain Republic. However, this did lead to store closures and redundancy for its 200 warehouse workers in Dundonald, reportedly with just 15 minutes’ notice. Troubles over this move by Ashley have continued to rumble on all year, with the most recent development being chief executive Dave Forsey facing legal charges in relation to him allegedly failing to notify authorities regarding the redundancies. The case will be heard in March 2016 and he has pleaded not guilty.
Ashley sold £117m of shares in Sports Direct in January, taking his slice from 58% down to 55%. However, his python-like grip over the sector continued to tighten. In January, Sports Direct increased its put-option in Debenhams from 6.6% to 10.5%, with the department store continuing its roll-out of Sports Direct concessions. Then in September it bought an 18.9% stake in Findel, which owns online retailer Kitbag, and acquired Irish department store Heatons in October.
Despite ongoing criticisms over its use of zero hour contracts from unions and some minority investors, 88% of shareholders voted to re-elect Ashley at the company’s AGM on September 11. Meanwhile, his holding company doubled pre-tax operating profit to £542.6m for the year to April 30, and at number 22 on The Sunday Times’ Rich List with an estimated personal wealth of £3.5bn, we doubt he is losing much sleep over any negative press he may be attracting.