Peter Cowgill, arguably probably the most profitable British retailer of the final twenty years, sensationally stepped down this night as govt chairman of JD Sports activities amid hypothesis he had been ousted.
His departure, with rapid impact, was introduced simply 12 minutes earlier than the shut of at present’s inventory market session and the information instantly despatched shares of JD Sports activities down by simply over 6% – wiping £377m from the corporate’s market worth.
Asserting the transfer JD Sports activities mentioned that, as a consequence of an ongoing overview of its inside governance and controls, it had determined to speed up the separation of the roles of chair and chief govt.
JD introduced in July final yr that it will break up the roles of chairman and chief govt over the next 12 months following criticism of its company governance by shareholders.
Some traders in JD have lengthy been involved in regards to the energy Mr Cowgill wielded within the boardroom.
He has been operating JD – which describes itself in its advertising and marketing because the ‘King of Trainers’ – with out a chief govt since Barry Bown left in 2014.
These considerations intensified when, in February, the corporate was fined £4.3m by the Competitors and Markets Authority for failing to have safeguards in place, sharing commercially delicate data and failing to alert the regulator over a gathering between Mr Cowgill and Mr Bown, who had gone on to develop into chief govt of Footasylum, which JD had beforehand owned however which it was pressured to promote by the watchdog on competitors grounds.
Some shareholders had additionally groused a few determination to pay Mr Cowgill a £4m bonus following a yr during which JD obtained cash from taxpayers for enterprise fee aid and workers furloughs throughout COVID lockdowns.
JD mentioned on Wednesday night that Helen Ashton, at present a non-executive director at JD Sports activities and chair of the corporate’s audit and danger committee, would develop into interim non-executive chair.
Ms Ashton, who joined the JD board in November final yr, has beforehand held govt stage roles on the on-line trend retailer ASOS, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays.
Kath Smith, at present JD’s senior unbiased director, will develop into interim chief govt. She beforehand labored within the sector as managing director of the Adidas and Reebok manufacturers and on the out of doors clothes group The North Face.
Ms Ashton mentioned: “The enterprise has developed strongly underneath Peter’s management right into a world-leading multi-channel retailer with a confirmed technique and clear momentum.
“Nonetheless, as our enterprise has develop into greater and extra advanced, what is evident is that our inside infrastructure, governance and controls haven’t developed on the identical tempo.
“As we capitalise on the nice alternatives forward of us, the board is dedicated to making sure that we have now the very best requirements of company governance and controls acceptable to a FTSE-100 firm to assist future development.”
Hypothesis that 67-year outdated Mr Cowgill was nearing the top of his time on the firm intensified when, in January this yr, he bought £21m price of shares in JD – equal to half his shareholding within the firm.
Mr Cowgill’s departure brings down the curtain on one of the profitable retailing careers of current occasions.
The Manchester United supporter, famed within the retail sector for his workaholic, seven-day-a-week method to the job, had been on the helm since 2004 and brought JD Sports activities from being a small retailer to a FTSE 100 member with greater than 2,500 retailers worldwide that, till lately, was valued at greater than £8bn.
His genius was to establish the rising pattern for so-called ‘athleisure’ and spot that 4 manufacturers – Reebok, Nike, Puma and Adidas – had been set to dominate the sector.
He constructed shut relationships with all of them and, in contrast to his rival Mike Ashley at Sports activities Direct, did his finest to hug these suppliers shut fairly than fall out with them.
The stockbroker AJ Bell calculated in November final yr that, since he turned govt chairman in 2004, Mr Cowgill generated whole shareholder returns of greater than 15,000% – in contrast with simply 211% for the FTSE 100.
Mr Cowgill, who grew up in Kearsley, simply outdoors Bolton, was an entrepreneur from an early age, promoting books on a rug from outdoors his household’s entrance door.
Standing out in school for excellent abilities in arithmetic, he studied on the College of Hull earlier than qualifying as a chartered accountant however shortly left the agency he had certified to arrange his personal accounting enterprise, Cowgill Holloway, on the age of 28 above a Bolton barber store. David Makin and John Wardle – the J and D in JD Sports activities – had been amongst his first shoppers and he finally ended up working with them.
Famend for maintaining his toes on the bottom, regardless of his wealth, he prefers to drink along with his outdated buddies at his native, the Unfold Eagle in Kearsley, over the excessive life.
Regardless of complaints from some traders over JD’s company governance, Mr Cowgill’s departure is more likely to be greeted with dismay in some components of the Metropolis, the place he retains a considerable fan membership.
Eleanora Dani, on the stockbroker and funding financial institution Shore Capital, mentioned Mr Cowgill had been integral to JD’s success. She mentioned that, whereas the separation of his roles had been flagged a extra gradual course of had been anticipated, with Mr Cowgill remaining as chairman for a few years.
She added: “The corporate is tightly managed with glorious money technology, tight inventory, and price controls. In our view, JD Sports activities stays a best-in-class retailer…nevertheless, we’re upset to see Mr Cowgill leaving and look ahead to listening to extra from the corporate.”