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Jack Wills CEO Suzanne Harlow exits

Lauretta Roberts
20 August 2019

Jack Wills CEO Suzanne Harlow exited the business yesterday, following its acquisition by Sports Direct, it has been reported.

Harlow, a former trading director of Debenhams who joined Jack Wills last year, has departed but it had not been her decision to leave according to sources close to the situation.

Despite making what one source claimed was "significant improvements" to product and margins, Harlow's departure was not entirely unexpected since it was believed that Sports Direct's head of elevation Michael Murray, who led the initiative to buy Jack Wills, was going to take an active role at the helm of the business. However this has not been confirmed.

Harlow was appointed as CEO of the business by its former owner BlueGem last September. The private equity house had been seeking advice from former Debenhams CEO Rob Templeman and it is understood that it was he who introduced Harlow to the business.

She had initially started at the firm as a consultant but was made CEO when Jack Wills co-founder Peter Williams left the company after falling out with BlueGem over strategy.

Williams had returned to the company in 2016 to execute a buy-out in partnership with BlueGem, having first left in 2013. He founded the business in Devon in 1999.

Jack Wills had been struggling, however, as the brand fell out of favour and conditions on the high street worsened. It had also expanded its retail and wholesale footprint with suggestions it had over-reached itself. Despite injections of cash from BlueGem it failed to recovered and was acquired earlier this month by Sports Direct in a pre-pack deal.

Shortly after the deal Sports Direct announced the closure of eight of the chain's 98 stores after failing to agree to new rent deals with landlords. It is believed it had been seeking zero rents on some locations.

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