JD Sports has hired former B&Q executive Régis Schultz to take over from Peter Cowgill, who dramatically exited in May amid corporate governance concerns.
Schultz replaces Kath Smith, a former Adidas executive, who has been running the company on an interim basis since Cowgill’s departure.
But who is the new JD boss?
Frenchman Schultz comes with a wealth of retail experience, mostly on a global stage.
Most recently he led the French retailer Monoprix – owned by Groupe Casino – and is currently the president of retail at Al-Futtaim Group, a large conglomerate based in Dubai.
The group operates in three regions, Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia, spreading across 15 countries and running more than 70 leading brands such as Ikea, Marks & Spencer, Nike, and Zara.
However, Schultz has had a taste of working in UK retail, from his eight years at Kingfisher.
He began his career with the DIY giant way back in 2000 when he joined its French banner Castorama as chief financial officer and chief operating officer.
In 2003, he moved to the UK to becoming Kingfisher’s strategy and development director before being promoted to chief operating officer for B&Q.
In 2008, Schultz became chief executive of the French furniture retailer BUT, after the leveraged buyout from Goldman Sachs and Colony Capital.
After a successful turnaround at BUT from a business that was losing share to one of the fastest-growing furniture retailers in France, Schultz joined electricals group Darty as CEO and chair in 2013, where he orchestrated another great turnaround.
Darty’s share price rose from 30p when he joined to 170p when he departed in 2016.
Schultz’s wealth of overseas retail experience will certainly be useful at JD, where international is a growing priority.
The sportswear giant has over 900 stores worldwide across 32 countries, including almost 100 stores in the US, plus stores across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
From tools and tiling to tracksuits
Despite Schultz’s experience, some observers are underwhelmed by the appointment.
Retail analyst Nick Bubb tells Retail Gazette that “a background in French DIY and furniture is not obvious preparation for running JD Sports”.
However, Bubb concedes that Schultz’s experience at Al-Futtaim will have taught him plenty about running multi-national fashion.
Bubb, however, points out that Schultz is a very different hire to Peter Cowgill, the bullish Mancunian who helped build JD into a sports giant during his 19 years in charge.
Straight-talking Cowgill was chair and chief executive of JD since 2004, and oversaw a turnaround in the group’s fortunes, building its market value to 60 times what it was when he arrived.
In its last financial year, JD delivered record profits of nearly £1billion, more than double the level of its previous record.
Cowgill was a prolific dealmaker, and helped grow the firm into a sportswear giant by striking exclusive deals with Nike and Adidas, acquiring rival firms, and internationalisation.
He may have been instrumental in JD’s phenomenal growth, however he did have his weaknesses. Corporate governance being one of them.
Cowgill was criticised by shareholders for the amount of control he exercised within the business.
He has also got JD into hot water with the CMA. In February, the sportswear retailer was handed a £4.3 million fine for breaching the rules around a merger blocked by the CMA.
The CMA said the two businesses had exchanged commercially sensitive information in when Cowgill was caught on camera meeting his Footasylum counterpart Barry Bown in a car park in Bury in July last year.
JD Sports is also facing a large fine after the CMA provisionally found it had engaged in “cartel activity” by fixing the retail price of Rangers Football Club merchandise last month.
The very corporate background of Schultz means such indiscretions are unlikely to happen on his watch.
However, it may bring a big cultural shift for both Schultz and the JD staff.
“How a Frenchman gets on working in Bury remains to be seen,” Bubb jokes.
Cultural differences aside, Schultz is a slick candidate with a proven track record on an international stage. And perhaps a change is what JD needs.
Hopefully it can banish its governance issues and concentrate on delivering the record performances that have made it a star of UK retail.
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