Mike Ashley has outlined plans to leave Sports Direct and take the helm at struggling Debenhams, in a move set to stun the City.
The retail tycoon, who has a 30% holding in Debenhams and was recently instrumental in getting its chief executive removed from the board, laid the foundations for a coup in a statement after financial markets had closed for the day.
The release said Sports Direct had “requisitioned a general meeting of Debenhams” to appoint Mr Ashley to the board of directors.
It said that it wanted the removal of all but one of the current members and for the billionaire to be handed an executive role to turn around the business, which earlier this week issued a fresh profit warning citing higher turnaround costs.
The statement said that if Debenhams was to come under Mr Ashley’s leadership, he would step down as a director and chief executive of Sports Direct.
The statement added that Chris Wootton, Sports Direct’s deputy chief financial officer, would be named acting chief executive in that eventuality.
“Sports Direct wishes to reassure its shareholders that, if Mr Ashley were to be appointed to the board of Debenhams and step down from his roles at Sports Direct, Sports Direct and Mr Ashley have every confidence that acting chief executive Mr Wootton and the other members of Sports Direct’s board and management team have the necessary expertise to continue to successfully run the Sports Direct business.”
There is currently no information on when a meeting would be held.
The move against the Debenhams board sets the scene for a potentially bloody battle should Sergio Bucher, the Debenhams boss, choose to stay on and fight.
Shareholder opposition, led by Mr Ashley, resulted in his removal from the board in January along with then-chairman Sir Ian Cheshire who promptly quit.
That vote followed a decision by directors to reject the terms of a £40m cash bailout offer by Mr Ashley – later agreeing a deal with banks instead.
Mr Ashley has set his sights firmly on the department store sector – snapping up House of Fraser following its collapse last August and revealing an ambition to turn the chain into the “Harrods of the high street.”
Debenhams was yet to comment on the developments.