JD Sports’ CEO pick marks a clean break from the recent past
If the JD Sports board wanted their choice of chief executive to mark a definitive break with the recent past, then Regis Schultz seems an ideal choice.
The Frenchman has run various retail operations in several countries and stands in stark contrast to Peter Cowgill, the outspoken Lancastrian who has devoted most of his career to transforming JD from a relatively small British company into a retail powerhouse.
“Peter has done an incredible job,” said Andrew Higginson, the former president of Wm Morrison who was appointed to the same position at JD in July. “His legacy is that the business trades very strongly. But he lacks governance infrastructure and needs to modernize.”
“The challenge is to make the business more professional without stifling the entrepreneurial flair that has served us so well,” he added.
Disagreements over governance and the timing of the splitting of the role of executive chairman into a more conventional chairman and CEO structure led to Cowgill’s ousting in a May coup.
The appointment of Schultz, who will begin in September and is considering a move to the Manchester area where JD is based, completes a rapid overhaul of the top 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. “He comes with a very sharp brain and a long roadmap.”
Another person who worked alongside him at Kingfisher said he approached things with more urgency than other senior managers 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 on board,” the person said. “Régis was closer to the Anglo-Saxon approach, he was much more down-to-earth”.
Schultz was born in Alsace, on the Franco-German border. Her first experience in retail was working in her mother’s shop 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.
It brought a sports scholarship to the United States, but not a professional career – unlike JD’s non-executive Bert Hoyt, who played on the ATP Tour in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
His first senior role after an MBA at Paris Dauphine University’s elite business school was at drinks conglomerate Pernod-Ricard, but it was during an eight-year stint in various roles at Kingfisher that ‘it became known.
Returning to France in 2008, he returned to the UK in 2013 as Managing Director of Darty, a London-listed electricity company while making the bulk of its sales in France. His three years there are his only experience at the head of a listed company, and ended with his takeover by the French distributor Fnac.
“He came to the company when it wasn’t in great shape,” said a person who worked with him at the time and described 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 the priority list at JD.
Although JD’s digital sales have surged during the pandemic, like many other retailers, its e-commerce offering is not considered to live up to the standards of its online-only peers or major brick-and-mortar operators. clicks” such as 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 Schultz peer from the Kingfisher 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 has already met – motivated and united.
Schultz has extensive experience working for private capital. He was managing director of French furniture retailer BUT when it belonged to OpCapita and Goldman Sachs and ran the high-end grocery 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 such as Ikea and Marks and Spencer in the Middle East and parts of Europe. Asia.
This may help him mend fences with JD’s majority shareholder, Pentland. The group, controlled by the billionaire Rubin family, backed Cowgill almost to the end.
Pentland said he welcomes his appointment “and the broad global experience he brings”, adding that alongside Andy Higginson he is “putting in place the leadership and governance necessary to help JD enter in its next chapter.