Debenhams shareholders vote bosses off board

Sergio Bucher
Image caption Sergio Bucher joined Debenhams from Amazon

The chief executive of Debenhams has been voted off the retailer’s board, but will remain in his role, the troubled retailer has said.

Two major shareholders, Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, and Landmark, voted against Mr Bucher’s re-election, the BBC understands.

The board said it had “full confidence” in plans put in place by Mr Bucher and the management to reshape the business.

Chairman Sir Ian Cheshire was also voted off the board and will step down.

The vote, at the company’s annual general meeting, came just hours after the embattled retailer reported a sharp fall in sales during the crucial Christmas trading period.

Sales fell 5.7% in the 18 weeks to 5 January. The company is in the process of closing 50 stores.

The board said Mr Bucher was not re-elected to the board “principally as a result of the votes of the same two major shareholders” who voted against Sir Ian – that is, Sports Direct and Landmark Group.

However it added: “Of the votes cast… Sergio received 44.15% votes in favour of his re-election. Excluding those two shareholders, the vote for Sergio to continue on the board was approximately 99.6% in favour.”

Debenhams board said it was “mindful of its responsibilities to all shareholders and has full confidence in Sergio and in the management’s plan to boost the business.

As a result, it added, the board and Mr Bucher had agreed that he should continue as chief “reporting to the board”.

However, Sir Ian had “concluded it is no longer possible for him to remain chairman of Debenhams,” it said.

Sir Ian had been on the Debenhams board for two years.

Terry Duddy, Debenhams’ senior independent director, has been appointed interim chairman. He said: “I recognise that individual shareholders have wished to register their dissatisfaction.

“I am looking forward to working with Sergio. My first task is to meet with shareholders so that I understand any concerns that they may have.”

Mr Ashley, who founded Sports Direct, has been taking an increased interest in the Debenhams.

Sports Direct already owns nearly 30% of the shares in the department store chain and has offered a further £40m investment. Debenhams rejected his offer, but said all options remain open.

Earlier on Thursday Mr Bucher said there had been fewer customers visiting the company’s stores.

He confirmed that Debenhams was in talks with its lenders about its £520m credit line. Those talks were “constructive”, he said.

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