Belfast Telegraph

New Look to board of retail fashion brand

By Holly Williams

The founder of high street fashion chain New Look has made a surprise return at the helm of the company following a management clear-out.

Tom Singh, who owns a 22.4% stake in the firm, will become interim executive chairman following the resignation of its chief executive Carl McPhail and non-executive chairman John Gildersleeve.

The changes come at a difficult time for the group, which owns 20 stores in Northern Ireland, as it battles against tough trading conditions and having recently ruled out reviving its plans for a stock market flotation later this year.

It is thought Mr McPhail, who became chief executive in 2008, was promoted to the top role largely to oversee an initial public offering.

New Look said Mr Gildersleeve had recently indicated his intention to retire to focus on other business interests.

Mr Singh, who launched New Look in 1969, will head up the business while it searches for a new management team.

He has remained on the board in recent years, but has not been involved in day-to-day management. The group did not provide an update on recent trading, having reported plunging sales over Christmas and the January clearance season, with a 9.1% like-for-like drop in the UK. Weymouth-based New Look was hit hard by the pre-Christmas snow, but is also under pressure from soaring cotton prices, higher wage demands from workers in China and Pakistan and increased freight costs.

It also recently emerged that its private equity owners slashed the value of their stake in the retail chain after the sales fall.

SVG Capital - an investor in New Look through buyout group Permira, which owns a 27.7% stake in the retailer - revealed it almost halved the value of its holding in New Look to £13.5m at the end of last year from £25.7m a year earlier.

New Look is also part-owned by private equity firm Apax, which owns a 27.7% stake.

The firm, which is due to report full year figures in June, reportedly decided not to resurrect float plans for 2011 due to the difficult trading conditions.

New Look came close to listing last year, but blamed financial market turmoil for its U-turn.

It had hoped to raise £650m through the aborted listing, which would have valued the firm at around £1.7bn.

New Look has more than 1,000 stores, with 606 in the UK and a growing presence in Europe and internationally.