Published On: Wed, Sep 12th, 2018

Debenhams in Ashley’s sights | City & Business | Finance

Sports Direct’s outgoing senior non-executive director Simon Bentley said a combination had been considered by the board during talks over the future of Debenhams, in which it holds a near30 per cent stake.

But he downplayed an imminent move as Sports Direct had its “hands full” with integrating House of Fraser, which it bought out of administration last month for £90million.

Debenhams shares rose 1¼p to 13½p.

Bentley headed for the exit after the retailer’s annual shareholder meeting alongside chairman Keith Hellawell, who has served for nearly nine years and been on the receiving end of shareholder concerns about corporate governance failings and the power wielded by its billionaire founder and chief executive, Mike Ashley.

Hellawell, a former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police and government drugs tsar, narrowly survived a bid to oust him last year.

The previous year, he relied on Ashley’s majority shareholder backing after over half of independent votes went against his re-election.

He is succeeded by Sports Direct non-executive director David Daly.

Hellawell said: “Having overseen significant improvements in the working practices and corporate governance of the company, which includes a refresh of the board, now is the right time for me to step aside. I have every confidence that the group will continue to go from strength to strength.

“I have enjoyed the challenges of Sports Direct and the support of Mike Ashley, many major investors, members of the board and senior staff and wish them much success for the future.”

Ashley thanked Hellawell and Bentley for their “valuable service and significant contributions” and insisted his strategy to transform House of Fraser into the “Harrods of the high street” would be a “game changer”.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of union Unite, said: “It’s about time he [Hellawell] resigned. He has presided over shocking working conditions at the Shirebrook warehouse.”

A total of 9.8 per cent of votes went against Ashley’s re-election.

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Debenhams in Ashley’s sights | City & Business | Finance