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JD Sports founder Peter Cowgill ousted ‘effective immediately’ | business news

Peter Cowgill, arguably the most successful British retailer of the last two decades, sensationally resigned as chief executive of JD Sports tonight after speculation he had been ousted.

His immediate departure was announced just 12 minutes before the end of today’s trading session and the news immediately sent JD Sports shares down just over 6% – taking £377m from the company’s market value.

In announcing the move, JD Sports said that as a result of an ongoing review of its internal governance and controls, it had decided to accelerate the separation of the chairman and chief executive officer roles.

JD announced in July last year that it would split the roles of chairman and chief executive officer over the next 12 months after shareholders criticized its corporate governance.

Some JD investors have long been concerned about the power Mr. Cowgill wielded in the boardroom.

He’s been running JD – which bills itself as the “King of Trainers” in its marketing – without a CEO since Barry Bown left in 2014.

Those concerns were compounded when the company was fined £4.3m by the Competition and Markets Authority in February. He later became managing director of Footasylum, which JD had previously owned but which the regulator had forced it to sell on competitive grounds.

Some shareholders had also complained about a decision to pay Mr Cowgill a £4million bonus after a year in which JD received money from taxpayers for tax breaks and staff furloughs during the COVID lockdowns.

JD said Wednesday night that Helen Ashton, currently a non-executive director at JD Sports and chair of the company’s audit and risk committee, would become interim non-executive chair.

Ms Ashton, who joined the JD board in November last year, has previously held senior-level positions at online fashion retailer ASOS, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays.

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Peter Cowgill, CEO of JD Sports

Kath Smith, currently senior independent director of JD, will become interim CEO. She previously worked in the industry as Managing Director of brands Adidas and Reebok and at outdoor clothing group The North Face.

Ms Ashton said: “The business has grown strongly under Peter’s leadership into a leading global multi-channel retailer with a proven strategy and clear momentum.

“However, as our business has grown larger and more complex, it is clear that our internal infrastructure, governance and controls have not evolved at the same pace.

“As we capitalize on the great opportunities that lie ahead, the Board is committed to ensuring we have the highest standards of corporate governance and control befitting a FTSE 100 company to support future growth.”

Speculation that 67-year-old Mr Cowgill was nearing the end of his tenure at the company was compounded when he sold £21million worth of shares in JD in January this year – half his stake in the company.

With the departure of Mr Cowgill, the curtain falls on one of the most successful retail careers in recent memory.

The Manchester United supporter, known in retail for his 7 days a week workaholic approach, has been at the forefront since 2004, transforming JD Sports from a small retailer into a FTSE 100 member with more than 2,500 outlets worldwide, which until recently were worth more than £8 billion.

His genius was recognizing the emerging trend of so-called “athleisure” and realizing that four brands – Reebok, Nike, Puma and Adidas – would dominate the sector.

He developed strong relationships with everyone and, unlike his Sports Direct rival Mike Ashley, did his best to retain these suppliers rather than quarrel with them.

Stockbroker AJ Bell calculated in November last year that Mr Cowgill has delivered a total shareholder return of more than 15,000% since his appointment as chief executive in 2004 – compared to just 211% for the FTSE 100.

A branch of JD Sports on Oxford Street in central London
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Mr. Cowgill is credited with identifying the trend toward so-called “athleisure.”

Mr Cowgill, who grew up in Kearsley, just outside Bolton, was an entrepreneur from a young age, selling books from a rug on his family’s doorstep.

He excelled in arithmetic at school and studied at the University of Hull before qualifying as a chartered accountant, but quickly left the firm he had qualified to set up his own accounting firm at the age of 28 above a Bolton , Cowgill Holloway, to set up Barber. David Makin and John Wardle – the J and D in JD Sports – were among his first clients and eventually he worked with them.

Known for keeping his feet on the ground despite his wealth, he’d rather drink with his old friends at his eatery, the Spread Eagle in Kearsley, than at the Highlife.

Despite complaints from some investors about JD’s governance, Mr Cowgill’s departure is likely to be greeted with dismay in some parts of the city where he has a sizable fan club.

Eleanora Dani of stockbroker and investment bank Shore Capital said Mr Cowgill has been an integral part of JD’s success. She said that although the separation of his roles had been announced, a more gradual process was expected, with Mr Cowgill remaining as chairman for a couple of years.

She added: “The business is tightly managed with excellent cash generation, strict inventory levels and cost controls. We believe JD Sports remains a premier retailer… However, we are disappointed that Mr. Cowgill is leaving and look forward to hearing more from the company.”

JD Sports founder Peter Cowgill ousted ‘effective immediately’ | business news

Source link JD Sports founder Peter Cowgill ousted ‘effective immediately’ | business news

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