Debenhams makes turnaround expert Stefaan Vansteenkiste new chief executive
Debenhams, which has five stores in Northern Ireland, has appointed a turnaround expert to lead the business, as it prepares to close stores and rebuild performance after being put into administration earlier this year.
Stefaan Vansteenkiste is to become chief executive, while chairman Terry Duddy will step down from the board next month.
The five Debenhams department stores in Northern Ireland are in Belfast's CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Craigavon's Rushmere, Newry's The Quays, Foyleside Shopping Centre in Londonderry and Fairhill in Ballymena.
Mr Vansteenkiste has already been working at the company as chief restructuring officer since April, when the group was put into administration and fell into the hands of its lenders.
He is a managing director at professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal, and has previously been chief executive of Holland's Intertoys chain and food group Vion.
He said: "The retail industry faces a challenging environment and everyone at Debenhams acknowledges that.
"But we have a clear plan and Debenhams has a great team of people who are committed to delivering it.
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"I am very excited about Debenhams' strong prospects and with a restructured balance sheet there is a robust platform from which to build a turnaround, based on Debenhams' clear brand focus, broad customer reach and differentiated product offer."
He succeeds Sergio Bucher, who stepped down shortly after the company's administration this year. He had already been voted off the board by Mike Ashley's Sports Direct at a general meeting in January.
The same meeting also led to previous chairman Ian Cheshire being ousted from the company, after which he was replaced by Mr Duddy.
Mr Duddy will now stay on to ensure a smooth handover to Mr Vansteenkiste, before stepping down next month.
Mr Duddy said: "The board welcomes Stefaan's appointment as CEO. We concluded that he is the right person to take the business forward into the next phase of its recovery.
"Stefaan has already made a strong contribution since joining Debenhams, and has the support of our investor consortium to drive forward our turnaround plan."
Debenhams gained approval for rent cuts and store closures through a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) earlier this year, paving the way for 50 store closures and 1,200 job losses.
However the CVA is facing a challenge from Combined Property Control Group (CPC), funded by Sports Direct.
If the plans go ahead, store closures are not expected to start until early next year.
Meanwhile, Sports Direct this week won the bidding war for fashion chain Jack Wills -which has three stores in Northern Ireland - adding yet another brand to Mr Ashley's high street empire.
Advisers at KPMG said Jack Wills had been put into administration on Monday and was immediately sold to Sports Direct in a process known as a pre-pack administration.
The sale, for which Sports Direct paid £12.75m, includes all 100 UK and Ireland stores and stock, as well as a distribution centre, along with all employees.
Directors are considering options for the international business.
This week online retailer boohoo bought the online businesses of Coast and Karen Millen.