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 tonight as chief executive of JD Sports amid speculation he had been sacked.

His departure, effective immediately, was announced just 12 minutes before the close of today’s trading session and the news caused an immediate drop in JD Sports shares of just over 6%, wiping £377m off the value of JD Sports. company market.

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

JD announced in July last year that it would split the roles of chairman and CEO for the next 12 months following criticism of its corporate governance from shareholders.

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

He has been running JD, who describes himself in his marketing as the ‘King of Trainers’, without a chief executive since Barry Bown left in 2014.

Those concerns were intensified when, in February, the Competition and Markets Authority fined the company £4.3m for failing to have security measures in place, sharing confidential business information and failing to alert the regulator about a meeting between Cowgill and Bown, who had become CEO of Footasylum, which JD had previously owned but was forced to sell by the watchdog on competition grounds.

Some shareholders also complained about the decision to pay Mr Cowgill a £4m bonus after a year in which JD received taxpayer money for business fee relief and staff leave during lockdowns. from COVID.

JD said Wednesday night that Helen Ashton, currently a non-executive director of 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 executive 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 a senior independent director at JD, will become interim CEO. She previously worked in the sector as general director of the Adidas and Reebok brands and in the outdoor clothing group The North Face.

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

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

“As we capitalize on the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead, the board is committed to ensuring we have the highest standards of corporate governance and controls appropriate for a FTSE-100 company to support future growth.”

Speculation that the 67-year-old Mr Cowgill was nearing the end of his time with the company intensified when, in January this year, he sold £21m worth of JD shares, the equivalent of the half of his stake in the company.

Mr. Cowgill’s departure pulls back the curtain on one of the most successful retail careers in recent memory.

The Manchester United fan, famous in the retail sector for his workaholic, seven days a week, has been at the helm since 2004, taking JD Sports from a small retailer to a member of the FTSE 100 with more than 2,500 points of sale worldwide that, until recently, was valued at more than 8,000 million pounds sterling.

His genius was to identify the emerging trend of so-called ‘athletics’ and to detect that four brands (Reebok, Nike, Puma and Adidas) were destined to dominate the sector.

He built close relationships with all of them and, unlike his rival Mike Ashley on Sports Direct, went out of his way to embrace those vendors rather than fight them.

Stockbroker AJ Bell calculated in November last year that since becoming chief executive in 2004, Cowgill generated total shareholder returns of more than 15,000%, compared to just 211% for the FTSE 100.

A branch of JD Sports on Oxford Street in central London
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Cowgill is credited with identifying the so-called ‘athleisure’ trend

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

Standing out at school for his outstanding numeracy skills, he studied at the University of Hull before becoming a CPA, but quickly left the firm where he had qualified to set up his own accountancy business, Cowgill Holloway, at the same time. age of 28 years above a Bolton. barbershop. David Makin and John Wardle, the J’s and D’s of JD Sports, were among his first clients and he eventually ended up working with them.

Known for keeping his feet on the ground, despite his wealth, he prefers drinking with his old friends at his local venue, the Spread Eagle in Kearsley, rather than the high life.

Despite complaints from some investors about JD’s corporate governance, Cowgill’s departure is likely to be greeted with dismay in parts of the City, where he retains a sizeable fan club.

Eleanora Dani, of broker-dealer and investment bank Shore Capital, said Cowgill had been an integral part of JD’s success. She said that while separation of duties from him had been noted, a more gradual process was expected, with Mr. Cowgill serving as chairman for a couple of years.

He added: “The business is tightly managed with excellent cash generation, tight inventory and cost controls. In our opinion, JD Sports remains a best-in-class retailer…however, we are disappointed to see that Mr. Cowgill is leaving and we look forward to hearing more from the company.”

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