Michael Sharp has been Chief Executive of the department store group since 2011. Sharp joined Debenhams (or its predecessor the Burton Group) in 1985 and was Deputy Chief Executive of Debenhams from 2008 before being promoted to CEO in 2011. He will remain Chief Executive throughout the Christmas trading period and into next year, until his replacement is found to ensure a smooth transition. He will also “evaluate internal and external candidates” alongside the board. Group trading director Suzanne Harlow, who has been with Debenhams for c.20 years, has been tipped as a possible successor to Sharp.
He is stepping down as he only planned to stay with the retailer for five years. He is dismissing rumours of a shareholder coup. Sharp said: “I had always intended to do this job for five years, although it was never said publicly. That was always my plan and I’m sticking to it. No one has asked me to leave. I am two months into my fifth year and I’m on a 12 month notice so I need to make my intentions clear to the board. This will allow me to focus on running the business. I don’t want [my position] to become a distraction.” Sharp has helped develop the company’s strategy and the results are starting to show. When he steps down, he will leave them in a strong position to compete and deliver long-term sustainable growth.
Debenhams issued two profit warnings in 2013 and has been trying to move away from its discounting culture. It has announced a 7.3% rise in profit before tax to £113.5m, group like-for-like sales were up 2.1% on a constant currency basis as sales edged up 1.3% to £2.86bn and online sales grew 11.4% and now represent 13.6% of group sales, during the 52 weeks ending August 29, breaking a four year cycle of profit decline. They are planning to open five new UK stores this autumn.