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LONDON — Mike Ashley, one of the U.K. retail scene’s most divisive personalities, may be stepping down from his role as chief executive officer of Frasers Group, which owns Sports Direct, Flannels and House of Fraser.
According to British media reports, the retail tycoon will become deputy chairman of the group and hand over day-to-day operations to his future son-in-law Michael Murray.
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An announcement is expected Thursday, along with the group’s trading update.
Murray, aged 31 and engaged to Ashley’s daughter Anna, works as the group’s head of elevation and has been tasked with creating a more upmarket image for the group. He has spearheaded the opening of Flannels’ first London flagship on Oxford Street and most recently, he was behind the retailer’s ambitious foray into beauty retailing, which aimed to bring new luxury shopping experiences to regional customers across the U.K.
“We’ve proved our concept and the fact that the consumer really does exist in regional cities, they are just not being served in a modern, forward-thinking way. There’s a reason why beauty halls are closing all around the world because the concept is dead — it’s a dying business model. We want to really rip up the rule books and put the consumer first,” he told WWD during the launch.
He has been employing a digital-first focus from the get-go and investing in online content in and out of stores. To date, his efforts helped boost the group’s performance, with shares being at their highest since 2015.
If he were to step into Ashley’s shoes, he’d have to overlook a bigger stable of brands under the Frasers Group, including Evans Cycles, Game, House of Fraser and Jack Wills — mostly scooped up by Ashley when they went into administration. During the pandemic, Ashley walked away from making a bid on Mulberry and was also said to be eyeing the likes of Debenhams and Topshop, but was outbid by the more digitally minded Asos and Boohoo.
Ashley, who founded Sports Direct as a single store in 1982 and grew its network to 1,000 doors, would be returning to the same chairman position he held until 2016, before taking over from long-serving CEO Dave Forsey.
Frasers Group did not respond to a request for comment.