Sports Direct chair in sudden exit


Keith HellawellImage copyright

Keith Hellawell, the chairman of Sports Direct, is to retire from the company later.

The sudden announcement was made as the company prepared to hold its annual general meeting of shareholders.

A year ago, he was re-elected by wonly 53% of independent shareholders and said he would step down at the next AGM if he did not win their support again.

The former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police had faced criticism about the way the company was run.

The company, founded by Mike Ashley, said Mr Hellawell, who had been on the board since 2009, would retire at the end of Wednesday’s AGM.

He will be replaced by non-executive director David Daly, who was appointed to the board last year.

The company has not yet published the outcome of the voting at its AGM, which was not expected to be attended by Mr Ashley.

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Investors have been concerned about the influence of Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley

As Mr Hellawell had announced his intention to retire, the company said he would not stand for re-election to the board.

Neither would another non-executive director, Simon Bentley, who was appointed to the board in 2007 and will also leave at the end of the meeting.

Mr Hellawell said: “Having overseen significant improvements in the working practices and corporate governance of the company, which includes a refresh of the board, now is the right time for me to step aside.

“I have every confidence that the group will continue to go from strength to strength. I have enjoyed the challenges of Sports Direct and the support of Mike Ashley, many major investors, members of the board and senior staff, and wish them much success for the future.”

Ahead of the meeting, three shareholder advisory bodies are said to have advised investors not to support Mr Hellawell’s re-election to the board.

Investors have been concerned about the way Sports Direct treats its workers, as well as the influence of Mr Ashley, who owns 61% of the retailer.

In 2016, a report by the MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills committee accused the company of not treating its workers like humans, although Sports Direct said it treated all workers with respect.

Last month, Sports Direct bought House of Fraser for £90m and Mr Ashley said he intended to turn the department store chain into the “Harrods of the High Street”.

Mr Ashley has described Sports Direct as having a “Selfridges of sport concept”.

Sports Direct said it was appointing Nicola Frampton, who is managing director of William Hill’s UK retail division, to the board next month.

Mr Ashley said: “I would like to thank Keith and Simon for their valuable service and significant contributions to the company over the years.”

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