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JD Sports CEO election marks a sharp break from the recent past

If the JD Sports board wanted their CEO choice to mark a definitive break from the recent past, then Regis Schultz seems like an ideal choice.

The Frenchman has run a variety of retail operations in several countries and stands in stark contrast to Peter Cowgill, the Franco-Lancastrian who has spent most of his career growing JD from a relatively small British business to a powerhouse. sale to detail.

“Peter has done an incredible job,” said Andrew Higginson, a former president of Wm Morrison who was appointed to the same position at JD in July. “His legacy is that the business trades very heavily. But it lacks governance infrastructure and needs to be modernized.

“The challenge is to make the business more professional without stifling the business style that has served us so well,” he added.

Disagreements over governance and the timing of splitting the CEO role into a more conventional CEO structure led to Cowgill’s ousting in a May coup.

The appointment of Schultz, who is due to start in September and plans to move to the Manchester area where JD is based, completes a quick review of the best team.

“It’s a good and positive appointment for JD,” said Sir Ian Cheshire, who worked with Schultz at British-French DIY conglomerate Kingfisher in the early 2000s. long roadmap. »

Another person who worked alongside him at Kingfisher said he did things with more urgency than other senior executives who were more likely to deliberate long over major decisions.

“It was pretty common for them to spend time chewing fat, going through all the permutations, getting everyone involved,” the person said. “Régis was closer to the Anglo-Saxon approach, it was much more practical. »

Schultz was born in Alsace, on the Franco-German border. Her first experience in retail was working in her mother’s store in Colmar, but her great passion from her youth was not fashion but tennis; at one point he was among the top 20 amateur players in France.

This brought an athletic scholarship to the United States, but not a professional career, unlike non-JD executive Bert Hoyt, who played on the ATP Tour in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

His first managerial post after an MBA at Paris Dauphine University’s elite business school was at drinks conglomerate Pernod-Ricard, but that was during an eight-year stint in various roles at Kingfisher that it has grown in importance. .

He returned to France in 2008, but returned to the UK in 2013 as CEO of Darty, a London-listed electrical equipment company when it made the bulk of its sales in France. His three years there are his only experience at the helm of a listed company, ending with its acquisition by French retailer Fnac.

“He came to the company when he wasn’t in great shape,” says a person who worked with him at the time, describing him as “demanding and quite direct” but effective.

“He tried to bring a much more entrepreneurial spirit to Darty,” the person added, including better integration of physical and digital operations, which will also be high on JD’s priority list.

Although JD’s digital sales have surged during the pandemic, like many other retailers, its e-commerce offering is not considered to measure up to its online-only peers or major brick-and-mortar operators. and clicks” like Next.

One of the main challenges Schultz will face at JD is adapting to a corporate culture shaped by notorious workaholic Cowgill, who several people say had more than 20 direct reports.

“That would have been a tricky one for whoever took the job,” said a colleague of Schultz’s from Kingfisher’s days.

But Higginson said Schultz had a “low ego” and seemed to have the personal skills and emotional intelligence to keep the company’s “rainmakers”, many of whom he’s met previously, motivated and in-the-know.

Schultz has extensive experience working for private equity. He was CEO of French furniture retailer BUT when it belonged to OpCapita and Goldman Sachs and ran the luxury supermarket chain Monoprix for French-Algerian tycoon Jean-Charles Naouri.

He joins JD after three years with Abdulla Al-Futtaim’s eponymous conglomerate in Dubai, which holds franchise rights for brands like Ikea and Marks and Spencer in the Middle East and parts of Asia.

This could help him reconcile with JD’s majority shareholder, Pentland. The group, controlled by the billionaire Rubin family, backed Cowgill almost to the end.

Pentland said he appreciates his appointment “and the broad global experience he brings to the table”, adding that together with Andy Higginson he is “establishing the leadership and governance necessary to help lead JD into its next chapter”. .

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