JD Sports Fashion chief Cowgill steps down, interim chair and CEO take over
JD Sports Fashion announced on Wednesday that Peter Cowgill — its executive chairman and the man who has led it for years to its current massive size and market-leading position — is to step down.
The move comes as the multinational retailer is accelerating its plan to separate the chief executive and chairman roles that Cowgill has combined in his current title.
While the company has been under pressure for some time to do just that, the departure is clearly one that hadn’t been fully planned out as it doesn’t have permanent replacements waiting in the wings. Instead, non-executive directors Helen Ashton and Kath Smith will take on the role of interim chair and interim CEO, respectively.
The move comes as a result of an ongoing review of the firm’s internal governance. But the shock nature of the announcement was clearly not welcomed by some as the firm’s share price dropped over 6% in late trading before the London Stock Exchange closed for the day.
So what do we know about the two people who will take over at the £5.8 billion company for now? Non-executive director Helen Ashton, is currently chair of the Audit & Risk Committee and, as mentioned, becomes interim non-executive chair. She joined the board only in November 2021 but has held a wide range of executive level roles including at ASOS, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays, as well as CEO positions in “high-growth private businesses”.
Meanwhile Kath Smith is also a non-exec (and is in fact the senior independent director). She becomes interim CEO and having considerable sports and outdoor industry experience. She’s worked for over 25 years in the sector as MD of the Adidas and Reebok brands and her previous position prior to joining the board was GM and VP of The North Face EMEA.
She “will work closely with the senior leadership team to continue to deliver on the group' s proven and successful strategy.
The company said the process to recruit a CEO remains ongoing and a process will now start to recruit a new non-executive chair.
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