Analysts sceptical after ailing JJB Sports appoints new chief

 
Kasmira Jefford
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RETAIL ANALYSTS were sceptical yesterday after JJB Sports appointed a former director of the troubled lingerie chain La Senza as interim chief executive, as the sports group fights to turn itself around.

Beverley Williams, a former commercial director and co-chief executive of La Senza, joins the business with immediate effect following Keith Jones’ exit last week.

Jones, who took the helm in March 2010, failed to stem losses of £50m a year at JJB.

The retailer, which has gone through three fundraisings and nearly collapsed last year, said Williams will work closely with chairman-designate and US retail veteran Bob Corliss to oversee the turnaround of JJB.

But some analysts expressed their disappointment at JJB’s decision, highlighting Williams’ track record at La Senza, which was rescued out of administration earlier this year.

“Beggars cannot be choosers,” said one analyst. “It is hard to attract retail heavyweights to a basket case of a company.”

Another analyst said Corliss’s experience of turning companies around pointed to JJB being wound down or sold.

JJB dismissed the comments.

PROFILE: BEVERLEY WILLIAMS

JJB Sports yesterday said Beverley Williams, its newly appointed chief executive, came with a “wealth of experience” in multi-channel retailing and was “particularly well known for her expertise in product and trading”.

While not a household name among the listed retailers, Williams has more than 25 years of experience at several of the sector’s best-known high street brands.

Williams kicked off her career in retail working as a Saturday girl at fashion chain Etam – now part of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia group ­– and was running its Oxford Street flagship store by the age of 19.

In the late 1970s, Williams left the shop floor to become a buying controller at the group, where she conceived and launched Tammy, the younger brand aimed at girls in their teens.

Williams left in 1978 and was appointed fashion director of the high street chain Chelsea Girl, helping to relaunch the brand as <a href="http://www.riverisland.com/Online/";>River Island</a>.

After a stint in China setting up a firm that supplied product to major brands including Timberland, Next and Debenhams, Williams joined lingerie firm Contessa in 2004 as general manager.

The brand, which was owned by Dragon’s Den star and entrepreneur Theo Paphitis, merged with La Senza in 2007 after the two companies were sold to Lion Capital.

William became commercial director and later joint managing director of La Senza in January 2009.

She has said her passion for retail began with her father taking her on buying trips to the fabric mills in Florence as a child and says on one social networking site: “I haven’t really looked back since”.

Williams has agreed to work an initial six months as JJB continues its search for a long-term chief executive, although a person familiar with the situation said she is expected to stay on a permanent basis.