Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group is in last-minute talks to save department store Debenhams, which announced its was entering a liquidation process last week. The collapse of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, which operates numerous concessions across the Debenhams chain, tipped the business over the edge.
Debenhams had been in administration since April – its second administration in the space of a year – and had been marketed for sale by its investors with expressions of interest in all or parts of the business coming from Frasers Group, Reliance Retail, Marks & Spencer, Next and The Hut Group, which wanted its valuable online business.
Frustrated at what it said was a lack of information provided, Frasers walked away from sale talks with Debenhams advisers and it emerged last month that a surprise bidder in the form of JD Sports was in exclusive talks to take over the department store.
However when it became clear that Arcadia was going into administration – its fate and Debenhams being so closely linked – JD walked away and a liquidators were appointed to Debenhams. Seeing his chance to swoop on a business he had eyed since 2014, Ashley made its move. While a deal is far from certain, should it go ahead it would mark the conclusion of a remarkable and dogged campaign by Ashley and mark the start of a new chapter in the 242-year history of a British high street icon.
See below for the landmark moments in Ashley’s campaign
Timeline: Mike Ashley’s pursuit of Debenhams
2014: Sports Direct (now Frasers Group) acquires a 4.3% stake
August 2017: Sports Direct increases its stake to 21% after Debenhams reveals a 44% drop in profits due to the costs of its turnaround strategy
January 2018: Debenhams issues shock profits warning sending shares down by 20% and wiping £70m off its valuation
March 2018: Mike Ashley ups his stake to 29.7%
September 2018: Sports Direct issues statement saying it does not intend to make a bid for the firm
October 2018: Debenhams announces plans to close 50 stores over next three to five years and announces the biggest loss in in its history of £500m
December 2018: Mike Ashley offers a £40m loan but is rebuffed
January 2019: Mike Ashley uses his voting power to oust chairman Sir Ian Cheshire and have CEO Sergio Bucher removed from board. Retail veteran Terry Duddy is appointed chairman
February 2019: Debenhams receives a £40m lifeline from lenders
6 March 2019: Debenhams issues its fourth profits warning in a year
7 March 2019: Mike Ashley launches bid to have himself installed as CEO
11 March 2019: Debenhams announces it is in talks with lenders over £150m refinancing plan
13 March 2019: Ashley offers an alternative £150m refinancing plan on proviso he can become CEO and up his stake
21 March 2019: Debenhams reveals it has secured a £200m refinancing plan that would wipe out existing shareholders, including Ashley
25 March 2019: Ashley offers £61.4m cash bid
6 April 2019: Ashley again makes £150m refinancing deal and offers to underwrite the rescue
9 April 2019: Ashley improves his offer to £200m but is rejected and the company is placed into administration and is immediately sold to an entity owed by its investors, called Celine
23 April 2019: Debenhams proposes CVA that will involve the closure of 22 of its stores
May 2019: Despite opposition from Mike Ashley, it wins approval for CVA. Ashley’s bid to trigger an investigation into the CVA fails
July 2019: Debenhams seeks additional £40m in funding
August 2019: Chairman Terry Duddy stands down as new CEO Stefaan Vansteenkiste is appointed
October 2019: Mike Gifford appointed as chairman. Mike Ashley tells MPs to investigate Debenhams’ collapse
January 2020: Debenhams kicks off the new year with a further 19 store closures
March 2020: Closes all stores as the UK goes into COVID-19 lockdown
April 2020: Enters “light touch” administration; announces permanent closure of seven further stores
May 2020: Announces the closure of five more stores and a raft of job cuts. Ashley’s bid to trigger an investigation into the company’s fall into administration fails
June 2020: 124 remaining stores across England, Wales and Scotland re-open
August 2020: Debenhams considers a sale as part of its exit plan from administration; cuts 2,000 jobs across stores and warehouses
September 2020: India’s Reliance Retail considers a bid while Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group claims it is being “frozen out” of the sale process and that it is impossible for it to make a bid for the £300m asking price given the lack of information it has been given.
October 2020: Reliance and Frasers walk away from a deal, while Next and M&S are reported to have been interested in some stores with Hut Group placing a bid for the website
November 2020: JD Sports emerges as a surprise bidder and enters into exclusive talks
30 November 2020: Arcadia, which operates numerous concesssions in Debenhams, collapses into administration
1 December 2020: JD confirms is has halted talks to buy the business and Debenhams confirms that liquidators have been appointed.
2 December 2020: Stores re-open after the second lockdown in England and will continue to trade until the liquidation process is completed. Large queues form outside its stores as shoppers are keen to grab bargains.
6 December 2020: It is revealed that Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group is in last-minute talks to save the business