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Q&A: Shop Direct chief executive Mark Newton-Jones

During his eight years at Shop Direct, chief executive Mark Newton-Jones has transformed a struggling catalogue retailer into an online giant. As the retail boss reveals his plans to leave Shop Direct, Gemma Goldfingle finds out why it’s time to depart and what the future holds in store.

Why have you decided to leave?

I sat down over Christmas as we were planning our new three year strategy, and I just couldn’t imagine being here in five years time.

Why are you staying on for 18 months?

It’s going to be a difficult year so it wasn’t right for me to leave immediately. I want to help us get through this year. I wouldn’t have just walked out, I’ve invested too much in this and it could take us up to a year to find the appropriate person.

Leaving next July, which is the end of our next financial year, means we won’t have to rush a handover. We don’t want a wobble in such a tough time.

What is next for you?

I’ve heard so many rumours – am I going to Argos, am I going to be Simon Wolfson’s successor at Next? The honest truth is I haven’t made any plans and simply don’t know yet.

People assume I’m going to a bigger company, but we turn over £1.7bn. If you take out the supermarkets, which I’m not particularly interested in, how many retailer’s turn over £1.7bn?

Will you stay in online retail?

Well I have worked across retail and spent 13 years on the high street side of Next before moving across to the Directory, but of course I have centred on online and mobile since. I’m finely attuned to online now but I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Are you looking for an executive role next or will you take on a non-exec position?

I’ve had a conversation [with the Shop Direct] board and if I decide to I could stay on a part-time basis, perhaps as chair.

You have a strong team underneath you at Shop Direct, could the right candidate come from within?

I don’t think so. We have a very strong team and if it was in three to five years time then certainly, [my successor could] be internal. But we need someone with more experience.

You’ve said you expect the year ahead to be tough, how’s it been so far?

Slightly better than expected. The Sale has done well. We’ve managed stock well and it’s down on last year. However, consumer confidence is so fragile that it won’t take much to derail it.

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