Debenhams appoints House of Fraser veteran Mark Gifford as new chairman

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// Debenhams confirms appointment of Mark Gifford as its new chair
// Gifford worked for House of Fraser for more than a decade and was also Game CFO
// His immediate remit is to assist CEO Stefaan Vansteenkiste during the crucial 4th quarter

Debenhams has announced the appointment of former House of Fraser and Game executive Mark Gifford as its new chair.

The news confirms speculation around the appointment that was first reported in the media earlier this week and marks an important step in the department store’s turnaround efforts.

Gifford will become a director and chairman of Celine Jersey Topco Ltd, the consortium of investors and lenders that took control of Debenhams earlier this year when it fell into administration.


Gifford spent 13 years at House of Fraser, with eight of those years spent as chief financial officer.

He left the Debenhams rival in 2015 to become chief financial officer at Game, a position he held for two and a half years.

He is currently the chairman of upmarket accessories retailer Radley London and a non-executive director at Ann Summers’ parent company GGI.

Debenhams – which is seeking to close stores after Christmas and seek rent reductions to return to profitability – said Gifford will bring to his new role “a wealth of experience in large scale turnarounds, bringing stability to retail businesses and delivering change and growth in the consumer sector”.

He will also assist chief executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste – himself is a restructuring veteran from Alvarez & Marsal who became Debenhams’ chief executive during summer.- during Debenhams’ crucial fourth quarter.

Earlier this month, Debenhams secured an extra £50 million of funding to provide it with additional liquidity and to help it get through the crucial Christmas trading period.

The struggling department store said some current lenders within Celine had agreed to stump up the extra money on “substantially” the same terms as a £200 million loan provided in March.

“We are delighted that Mark will be joining the parent board to work with our investor consortium, who have confirmed their continuing commitment through providing additional liquidity for our peak trading,” Vansteenkiste said.

“Mark’s expertise and understanding of business change as well as the retail industry will be invaluable. I look forward to working with him as we deliver the turnaround of the group.”

Gifford said: “Debenhams is strongly backed by a supportive investor group with substantial resources and has an experienced management team with a clear plan to deliver a turnaround.

“I am excited about the opportunity to play a part in building a successful future for one of the UK’s best-known retail businesses.

“We are assembling a strong group of Board members and I am looking forward to working with the team as we implement the necessary changes to deliver a sustainable and profitable future.”

When Celine took control of Debenhams in spring, it launched a CVA which recently cleared a major obstacle in the High Court to allow it to push on with plans to bring the business back to profitability.

The department store chain will operate as usual until Christmas, but by January 2020 it will shut down 22 stores and rent reductions or lease negotiations on a further 105 stores will have been sought.

After the initial batch of store closures, Debenhams will eventually close down a total of 50 of its 166 stores.

Thousands of jobs are estimated to be cut as a result of the CVA process.

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