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Jack Wills: Mike Ashley and Philip Day in battle to secure retailer

Lauretta Roberts
02 August 2019

Retail tycoons Mike Ashley and Philip Day are reported to be the last two bidders in the race to acquire struggling preppy fashion and lifestyle retailer Jack Wills.

The pair, who head up Sports Direct and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill group respectively, may learn the outcome of the process, which is being overseen by KPMG, as early as this weekend. Other bidders who have now dropped out were believed to be Crew Clothing Co and the Swede Johan Eliash, who runs sports brand Head.

According Sky News, Jack Wills’ owners, the private equity house BlueGem, may consider putting the retailer through a pre-pack administration, whereby the sale is agreed before a quick administration is carried out and the company is flipped on to the successful bidder minus some liabilities.

Whichever bidder is successful and however the deal is structured, further restructuring seems likely for the 110-store chain, which has burnt through £20m in refinancing funds from BlueGem and Italian investor Giorgio Girondi in the past 12 months.

Jack Wills is headed up by CEO Suzanne Harlow, a former trading director of Debenhams, who joined the business last year to replace its founder Peter Williams who fell out with BlueGem over strategy.

Williams and BlueGem had teamed up to acquire Jack Wills from its previous long-term investor Inflexion in 2016. Williams had previously left the business in 2013.

BlueGem had apparently been reluctant to instigate a CVA at Jack Wills, preferring instead to cut its losses. It recently made a sizable return on its investment in department store Liberty, selling it last month in a deal which valued the store at £300m.

Ashley and Day went head to head to buy House of Fraser but Ashley won that deal. However it didn’t turn out to be the victory he had hoped and in his latest trading update to the City he admitted he would not have bought the company had he known the extent of its problems.

Both men own sizeable retail empires with Ashley owning Sports Direct, House of Fraser, Flannels, Evans Cycles, and Game, and Day owning Bonmarche (a recent acquisition), Austin Reed, Jaeger, Peacocks and more.

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