Shop Direct reaches outside of fashion sector for new CEO

One of the biggest jobs in UK fashion has gone to… a top executive from the gambling sector. Shop Direct has named Henry Birch to run the group, replacing interim CEO Derek Harding and ultimately replacing the well-respected Alex Baldock who left earlier this year.


Shop Direct/Veryexclusive

Until now he’s been CEO of Rank Group but the changeover won’t happen immediately with Birch set to join later in the year. Rank said that he has given 12 months' notice and will remain in his current role for now “to ensure an orderly handover.” It didn’t say when he gave notice.

In his current role, his main experience will have been running gambling venues from the firm’s Mecca Bingo clubs to its Grosvenor Casinos in the UK and Europe.

And before this he ran William Hill Online for four years, another gambling business. But significantly he launched its mobile business while he was in that role.

So what’s the thinking behind talking a new chief executive with no fashion or related retail experience? Shop Direct chairman Aidan Barclay said: “Henry is an experienced CEO and an exceptional leader. From both Rank Group and William Hill Online, he brings a track record of reshaping businesses to become more customer-focused, data-driven and technology-enabled while simultaneously driving outstanding financial performance.”

And that’s key because e-tail businesses today are increasingly based on technology and data, regardless of their product categories. They also need to be regularly refreshed to face the disruptive rivals and technologies that are turning much of what we know about fashion retail on its head.

Harding will continue to run Shop Direct until Birch arrives and will then go back to being the group’s CFO.

The news about the new CEO comes after a turbulent period for the company. Although among the most successful e-tailers, its attempt to sell itself last year was derailed by the tough environment that meant potential bidders weren’t prepared to pay the premium price the controlling family wanted.

And Baldock’s departure (he’s currently CEO-designate of electricals retailer Dixons Carphone) was followed in recent days by news that Matt Dixon and Zoe Matthews, its group product director and group fashion director, are leaving to pursue other opportunities. Matthews is leaving to join Asda and will be in charge of the George brand.

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