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Shock as JD Sports boss Peter Cowgill is ousted after 18 years

Shock as JD Sports boss Peter Cowgill is ousted after 18 years despite having overseen a fourteen-fold share price rise

JD Sports boss Peter Cowgill was ousted yesterday from the business after 18 years in charge.

In a shock announcement, JD said Cowgill had stepped down ‘with immediate effect’ from the retailer he turned into one of Britain’s biggest business success stories.

Non-executive directors at a board meeting unanimously voted to remove him from his role. It is unclear whether Cowgill was at the meeting or why he was forced out.

Shock exit: JD Sports said Peter Cowgill (pictured) had stepped down ‘with immediate effect’ from the retailer he turned into one of Britain’s biggest business success stories

It is understood he tried to block attempts by the board to split the roles of chairman and chief executive.

Cowgill, who has been executive chairman since 2004, has overseen a 14-fold rise in its share price – even accounting for a 50 per cent drop this year. 

JD shares crashed 6.1 per cent, or 7.3p, to 112p yesterday as it said it was splitting the roles of chief executive and chairman as part of a review into governance.

It has appointed former Asos finance boss and current board member Helen Ashton as its interim chairman, and Kath Smith, former vice-president of outdoors brand The North Face and a current JD board member, as interim chief executive.

And it has kicked off a search for a new chairman as well as the ongoing hunt for a chief executive. 

The search started last year when it bowed to pressure to split the roles of chairman and chief executive over governance concerns.

Ashton said: ‘The business has developed strongly under Peter’s leadership into a world-leading, multi-channel retailer with a proven strategy and clear momentum. 

As our business has become bigger and more complex, what is clear is that our internal infrastructure, governance and controls have not developed at the same pace.’

Shore Capital retail analyst Clive Black added: ‘It will probably benefit in due course from having two heads instead of one but Cowgill has been front and centre of the amazing success of JD.’

His exit comes after JD was fined £4.3million by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in February after it found he breached its rules by meeting Barry Brown, chief executive of Footasylum, and exchanging commercially sensitive information.

JD Sports bought the trainer retailer for £90million in 2019 in a deal that was subsequently subjected to an investigation by the CMA, during which time the companies were ordered to operate as separate businesses.

But in July and August last year they met and discussed information including Footasylum’s financial performance, stock, potential closure of stores and contracts.

Pentland, with a 52 per cent stake in JD, said: ‘We recognise that now is the right time for the business to fulfil its future ambitions under a new governance structure and new leadership. 

These are necessary steps to ensure the long-term, sustainable growth of the business and that JD embraces the scrutiny and responsibility which comes with being a FTSE 100 company.’

JD has said it is on course for record profit in the year to next January 28, of £940million.

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