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Jack Wills founder Peter Williams to leave after disagreement with PE backers

Lauretta Roberts
12 August 2018

Jack Wills founder Peter Williams is reportedly set to depart the business he founded for the second time following a disagreement with PE backers BlueGem Capital Partners.

The Sunday Times reports that Williams is finalising the terms of his departure and that the private equity firm, which also backs department store Liberty, is lining up former Debenhams trading director Suzanne Harlow to replace him.

It is reported that Jack Wills, which Williams founded in Salcombe in 1999, has encountered problems after the drop in sterling's value after the Brexit vote led to an increase in prices from suppliers in Europe and Asia. A push into wholesale (last autumn it appointed Greg Roberts, formerly of Superdry, to lead its new wholesale strategy) has also tied up cash in other retailers' stock and BlueGem is currently organising a £20m refinancing deal.

His departure would bring to an end Williams' second stint at the helm of the quintessentially British young fashion brand, which first found favour among students and middle-class market town dwellers. It has recently said, however, that it was expanding beyond its stronghold markets and into more mainstream locations.

Last week it announced the signing of a new unit at intu Lakeside and said it would be working with the shopping centre operator to find more high profile store locations across the country. In July it announced its first store in Basingstoke, at Festival Place.

Williams first headed the brand from its founding until 2013 when he left as the brand was apparently riding high and had been tipped for a £500m stock market float. However the business began to falter after Williams' departure and the float, which Lord Melvyn Davies had been appointed as chairman to oversee in 2014, did not materialise. Williams' successor, Wendy Becker, then oversaw a disastrous decision to outsource the brand's warehousing, which led to heavy losses.

In 2015 Williams returned to the business and the following year he paired up with BlueGem to buy the business from long-term backers Inflexion. Davies, a former chief executive of Standard Chartered and former Labour Government Minister for Trade, Investment and Small Business, left the business at the time of the deal.

Suzanne Harlow has been acting as a consultant for Jack Wills since May of this year. She had previously been executive director and board member, and before that group trading director, at department store Debenhams, where she had worked from 1994 to 2017.

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