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Mike Ashley moves to take control of Debenhams

Mike Ashley has announced plans to remove all the directors at Debenhams, except Rachel Osborne who was appointed in September, and appoint himself to the board in an executive role.

Ashley, who holds a 30% stake in the department store chain, pledged in a stock exchange announcement on Thursday evening that if he was to be appointed he would step down from his current role as a director and chief executive of Sports Direct. He would be replaced as acting chief executive by Chris Wootton, currently Sports Direct’s deputy chief financial officer.

The announcement said that if Ashley were to be appointed to the board of directors in what it called a “business critical period for Debenhams”, he would focus on the Debenhams business, including “building a strong board and management team”.

In response to Ashley’s announcement the Debenhams board issued a statement that it was “disappointed” that Ashley and Sports Direct has decided to take this action.

It states: “The board of Debenhams received notice from Sports Direct last night requisitioning a general meeting of shareholders to propose the appointment of Mr Mike Ashley to the board of directors of Debenhams and the removal of all of the current members of the Debenhams board (other than Rachel Osborne who became a director in September 2018). Any shareholder holding more than 5% of the issued share capital has the right to call a shareholder meeting.

“The board has been engaging with Sports Direct and our other stakeholders regarding options to restructure our balance sheet and is disappointed that Sports Direct has taken this action. In the meantime, discussions to address our future funding requirements are well advanced.”

There is currently no indication when this shareholder meeting will be held.

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