JD Sports hires ex-Morrisons boss Higginson as chair

Andy Higginson

Bury-based FTSE 100 retailer JD Sports Fashion plc announced on Friday it hired former Morrisons chair Andy Higginson as chair of JD Sports, effective July 11, 2022.

On May 25, JD Sports announced that executive chairman Peter Cowgill would step down from his role with immediate effect amid a push for stronger governance at the firm.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced in February that JD Sports Fashion and Rochdale-based Footasylum had been fined almost £5 million “after breaching the rules around a merger blocked by the CMA.”

JD Sports said on May 25 that “as a consequence of an ongoing review of its internal governance and controls” it decided to accelerate the separation of the roles of chair and chief executive officer at the firm.

Kath Smith became interim CEO and Helen Ashton became interim non-executive chair.

On Friday, JD Sports said: “The appointment (of Higginson) follows an extensive search process undertaken by the board with the support of an external executive search firm.

“Andy is a highly experienced and proven retailer and chair with over 28 years of continuous non-executive director experience on plc boards, including senior leadership roles over nearly 15 years at Tesco.

“Most recently, he was chair of William Morrison Supermarkets plc from January 2015 until the takeover of the business by private equity firm CD&R LLP in November 2021.

“During this time he oversaw a major turnaround of the business and significant value realisation for shareholders. He is also currently Senior Independent Director at Flutter plc.”

Interim chair Helen Ashton said: “The board was impressed with the high-quality candidates that we met throughout the recruitment process.

“Andy, however, stood out as the best candidate with his extensive board experience including as a chair and his strong track record in the international retail sector.

“It is a testament to the quality and attractiveness of JD that we have recruited Andy to the important role of chair.

“JD is a great business with a clear strategy, occupying a unique place in the market and we look forward to working with him on our global development opportunities.”

Russ Mould, Investment Director at AJ Bell, said: “JD Sports has made the first step towards rebuilding its senior leadership team following the departure of executive chairman Peter Cowgill.

“Consumer-facing business expert Andy Higginson has been appointed as the new chair of JD Sports, bringing experience from years of service at supermarkets Tesco and Morrisons as well as Unilever, Guinness and Laura Ashley.

“His role is to lead the board of directors and set high governance standards.

“This was something which was perhaps a weak point under the reign of Cowgill, given questions about why he had the joint chair and CEO role, as well as the circumstances of his exit — Cowgill left suddenly after a review of JD’s internal governance and controls.

“During his leadership the company came under fire for the design of bonuses, the way store leases were restructured at its camping gear chain Go Outdoors, and various dealings linked to JD’s failed attempt at buying trainers group Footasylum.

“Given how JD’s share price has slumped in recent months amid market worries about consumer spending and the surprise departure of Cowgill, Higginson will be under pressure from day one to try and improve the company’s reputation from a boardroom perspective, and to find the right person to lead the business.

“Despite all the drama, JD has been a resounding success and its core business model certainly doesn’t need a rethink.”