Mike Ashley 'to hand Sports Direct reins to future son-in-law'

·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley, right, leaving the Sports Direct headquarters in London with his future son in law Michael Murray. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA via Getty Images
Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley, right, leaving the Sports Direct headquarters in London with his future son in law Michael Murray. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA via Getty Images

Billionaire retail mogul Mike Ashley is reportedly preparing to step back from running Sports Direct, the discount sporting goods retail that made his names.

The Telegraph reported on Tuesday evening that Ashley was preparing to step down as chief executive of Sports Direct and hand the role to his future son-in-law Michael Murray. An announcement could come this week alongside results, the paper said.

Frasers Group (FRAS.L), the parent company of Sports Direct, has been contacted for comment.

Ashley founded Sports Direct in 1982 from a market stall in Maidenhead and grew the business into a sporting goods giant. He floated the company on the London Stock Exchange for £2bn ($2.7bn) in 2007 but has retained a controlling shareholding. His interest, and his ownership of Newcastle United Football Club, have helped make him a billionaire.

Ashley has held the chief executive position at Sports Direct since 2016 when he took charge after a scandal around working conditions. MPs said conditions at the company's Shirebrook warehouse were "Victorian" and the company admitted to paying some staff below minimum wage.

Any decision to step back from day-to-day operations would signal Ashley views his job of righting the ship as complete. Change at the top would also represent a stunning elevation for Murray, 31, who has only worked at the business for five years.

Murray, a former club promoter who is engaged to Ashley's daughter Anna, was hired to run Sports Direct's property business in 2016 and promoted to 'head of elevation' two years later. He has helped to smarten up the image of Sports Direct and its suite of brands, trying to push the retailer upmarket.

"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."

Asked about the possibility of replacing Ashley at Sports Direct, Murray told the Financial Times the same year: "That’s not my decision. I can’t elevate Mike out of the business."

The Telegraph said Ashley was likely to take on the role of deputy chairman at Frasers Group, which also owns brands like House of Fraser, Jack Wills, and Evans Cycles.

Shares in Frasers Group were down 0.6% on Wednesday morning. The stock has recently been trading at a five-year high.

Frasers Group shares are at a 5-year high. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK
Frasers Group shares are at a 5-year high. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

In a separate statement to the stock market on Wednesday, Frasers Group noted it had been "commended" by an employment tribunal for its decision last year to send home all staff over 60 as the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The company received an age discrimination claim against the policy but a tribunal sided with Frasers Group.

"During what was an incredibly disruptive period for all, we are pleased that the Tribunal has acknowledged the extra mile that the Company went to in protecting our colleagues," the company said. "We continue to put the welfare of our colleagues first, always."

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