Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley plans to step down from Sports Direct to take over running of Debenhams

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has outlined plans to hand over the reins of Sports Direct and take over running Debenhams.

By Ross Robertson
Friday, 8th March 2019, 6:40 am
Updated Friday, 8th March 2019, 6:48 am
Mike Ashley. Picture by PA
Mike Ashley. Picture by PA

The businessman has called for a clean sweep at the top of Debenhams and proposed installing himself as an executive at the troubled department store chain.

In a stock market update, the retail tycoon tabled a proposal for a shareholder meeting to remove "all of the current members of the Debenhams board", other than finance chief Rachel Osborne.

Mr Ashley owns just under 30% of Debenhams through Sports Direct.

The proposal would see Mr Ashley would step down from his current roles as a director and chief executive of Sports Direct, to be replaced by deputy finance boss Chris Wootton in an acting capacity.

A statement read: "If Mr Ashley were to be appointed to the board of directors of Debenhams during this business-critical period for Debenhams, Mr Ashley would carry out an executive role and would focus on the Debenhams business, including building a strong board and management team."

If successful, it would represent the second major coup by the Newcastle United owner and maverick businessman.

In January he teamed up with fellow shareholder Landmark to eject Debenhams chairman Sir Ian Cheshire and chief executive Sergio Bucher from the board.

It is widely expected that Mr Ashley, who recently acquired House of Fraser, will also look to pounce on Debenhams when he feels the time is right.

The shock announcement comes just days after Debenhams issued its latest profit warning.

It warned that trading headwinds, efforts to put the group on a secure financial footing and macroeconomic uncertainties were hitting the company hard.

The profit alert was the fourth in just over a year.

In February, Debenhams secured a £40 million lifeline from its lenders to act as a bridge while the company continues talks for a longer-term refinancing.

In an effort to reassure Sports Direct investors, the group said Mr Ashley has "every confidence" that Mr Wootton and the other members of the board and management team have the necessary expertise to successfully run the business.