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Ben Lewis and Will Kernan

Non-executive director and CEO, River Island

It has been a big year for River Island, which brought in its first CEO from outside the founding Lewis family. At the end of September, the then CEO Ben Lewis, whose uncle Bernard Lewis launched River Island in 1988, passed the reins to former boss of The White Company Will Kernan.

Industry experts praised Kernan’s background in finance, operations and international.

The handover of power comes at a challenging time for River Island. Investment in product, technology and service resulted in a 56.4% drop in operating profit in the 52 weeks to 29 December 2018, its most recent results. Revenue fell 3% to £919.7m. Nevertheless, it opened four new stores and relocated nine during this period. And Lewis, who remains non-executive director, leaves a strong legacy – during his nine years at the helm of River Island, the retailer has expanded into new product categories and built a successful digital presence.

Meanwhile, River Island’s parent company, River Island Global Holdings, launched a direct-to-consumer womenswear brand, Harpenne, this year, which is separate from the core River Island business and led by Fiona Lambert, former womenswear product director at Next and vice-president of George.

Earlier in the year, the family investment business, Lewis Trust Group, took control of womenswear brand Mint Velvet in March, in a deal that valued the label at more than £100m.

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