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Jack Wills: Ashley in pole position

Lauretta Roberts
05 August 2019

Sports Direct chief Mike Ashley is said to be in pole position to acquire struggling preppy fashion retailer Jack Wills.

Following news on Friday that Ashley and Edinburgh Woollen Mill owner Philip Day were the last two bidders left in the running, Ashley emerged as favourite to buy the business over the weekend.

The fate of Jack Wills could be known as early as today and, according to Sky News, a sale to Ashley via a pre-pack administration was the likely option, though not necessarily a done deal.

If Ashley is successful it is likely the deal will inject further tension into Ashley's  already fragile relationship with the City. The retail tycoon came under heavy criticism for delaying its recent year-end results due to issues with the integration of the House of Fraser business.

Ashley acquired House of Fraser a year ago in a pre-pack deal, also seeing off a rival bid from Day, but admitted that had he been aware of the extent of the business's problems, he may not have acquired it.

Since acquiring House of Fraser, Ashley has been on a spending spree that has included Evans Cycles, Sofa.com and Game Digital. He also threw his hat in the ring for LK Bennett and Patisserie Valerie, and attempted to wrest control at Debenhams.

Should Ashley acquire Jack Wills, it is likely to require a painful restructuring for its 1,800 staff and 110 stores. The retailer, which is led by former Debenhams executive Suzanne Harlow, has been burning through cash injections from its owner BlueGem, which has been reluctant to keep propping it up and is also said to have had no appetite to enter a CVA process. KPMG was appointed to handle the sale.

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