Who is Michael Murray, Mike Ashley's successor at Sports Direct?

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley leaving its headquarters in London with his future son-in-law Michael Murray
Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley leaving its headquarters in London with his future son-in-law Michael Murray. Photo: PA

Mike Ashley is stepping back from the day-to-day operations at Frasers Group, the company he founded and built over the last four decades.

Frasers Group said in a statement on Thursday that Ashley would hand over the chief executive role to Michael Murray by May next year. Ashley will remain on the board.

The news came as the group reported an 8.4% fall in half-year sales and a 95% fall in pre-tax profits. Shares in the company fell 2%.

Ashley founded Frasers Group in 1982 as Sports Direct and has built it from a market stall in Maidenhead to a multibillion-pound listed business. He built Frasers Group after acquiring the likes of Jack Wills, House of Fraser, and Evans Cycles.

The announcement of his transition leaked days ahead of time but will still come as a surprise to many in the city.

At least some investors will be relieved to see Ashley move on. A self-described "power drinker", he is one of the most unconventional figures in the City. His barrow boy-style and love of deal making has drawn ire from some investors over governance.

File photo dated 24/3/2020 of a Sports Direct store in Leicester. Sports Direct owner Frasers Group has warned it could take a hit in excess of �200 million due to the Covid-19 restrictions - double its previous estimate in February. Issue date: Friday April 9, 2021.
A Sports Direct store in Leicester. Photo: PA

But investors may view Murray warily. The 31-year-old has only worked for the business for five years and is engaged to Ashley's daughter. 

Susannah Streeter, a senior investment and markets analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, said Murray's elevation "raised plenty of eyebrows".

Doncaster-born Michael Murray is a former club promoter who began dating Anna Ashley in 2011 after the pair met on holiday in Spain. The son of a property developer, Murray began helping Mike Ashley with personal property deals after he began dating his daughter, according to the Daily Mail.

Ashley then tapped up Murray to run Sports Direct's property arm in 2016. The Reading University graduate provided this service through his own consultancy business, earning him about £15m in fees. He developed a reputation as a tough negotiator with landlords.

Murray was promoted to "head of elevation" at Frasers Group two years later. In this position, the Leeds United fan has had a key role in trying to modernise the company and win younger, more affluent customers.

Murray has developed a close working relationship with Ashley, who is said to have been impressed by his operational skills.

File photo dated 26/7/2019 of Mike Ashley. Sports Direct owner Frasers Group is expected to unveil an
Sports Direct and Frasers Group founder Mike Ashley. Photo: PA

"Mike said he’d turn it into the ‘Harrods of the high street’," Murray told the Times in 2019. "He likes to come out with punchy statements and then it’s up to me to figure out what that actually means – I’m like the translator.”

Sports Direct's newly revamped Oxford Street store was opened in June of this year and Murray sees it as the crown jewel in his regeneration project.

"The group's elevation strategy is transforming the business and receiving positive feedback from consumers and our brand partners, especially on projects such as the new Oxford Street Sports Direct which opened in June 2021," Frasers Group said on Thursday.

"The board consider it appropriate that Michael leads us forward on this increasingly successful elevation journey."

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