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Next founder says high street needs more women bosses

Lauretta Roberts
28 September 2016

Next founder George Davies has said the British high street would not be "struggling as much as it is" if more women were in the top jobs.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, Davies suggested that the high street would be more successful if there were a better representation of women among retailers' top teams.

[Women] work quicker and harder than men. The retail industry needs people who visit stores and understand customers and that’s why I think the gender mix on executive boards should be at least equal,” he said.

Davies, who also founded George at Asda and the Per Una line which is sold in Marks & Spencer, said the gender split at his latest venture FG4 is 67%-33% in favour of women.

His comments come just as two of high street fashion's most high profile women have exited the business; at least for now. Marks & Spencer executive director for multichannel, Laura Wade-Gery, announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the business after a year's maternity leave.

Wade-Gery was believed to have been a strong contender to take the top spot at Marks & Spencer after former CEO Marc Bolland, who had lured her to the business from Tesco in 2001, stood down. Instead the job went to Steve Rowe, whose career at the retailer began as a Saturday boy.

A day after Wade-Gery's announcement Whistles CEO Jane Shepherdson announced she was leaving after the business was sold to the South African Foschini Group earlier this year. Shepherdson had led a buyout of the chain in 2008 and had owned a 20% stake in the business. She had previously established her reputation as one of fashion retail's most influential women while at Topshop.

George Davies is one of the high street's best known entrepreneurs. He founded Next in 1982 and it went on to become (and still remains) one of British retail's most successful business. It did, however, hit a rocky patch in the late 1980s, which led to Davies exiting the business.

He then went on to establish George at Asda which revolutionised the way consumers regarded supermarket fashion. He left in 2000 after the supermarket was bought by American giant Wal-Mart.

His next high profile project was setting up Per Una for Marks & Spencer and he sold the line to the business in 2005, which he has described as his most lucrative business deal. He stayed on with Marks & Spencer after the deal was completed and left in 2008.

In 2009 he revealed his fourth major fashion venture GIVe (as in George IV) but that business was closed in 2011.

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