Consumer

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

It's back to the future at Sports Direct.

Mike Ashley's running the show once more, harking back to a time more than 30 years ago, when he presided over the single shop that grew into his retail empire. He's stepped into the role of chief executive after the resignation Thursday of his long-standing right-hand man, Dave Forsey.

The company offered no explanation, but Ashley had been unhappy with Forsey's performance for some time. He was denied a 4 million pound ($5.2 million) share bonus in June, and was heavily criticized in a report earlier this month by lawyers RPC into Sports Direct's working practices.

A Year for Sports Direct to Forget
Mike Ashley takes over as CEO after Forsey's departure created yet another bump in a rocky year.

Shareholders have already voted Chairman Keith Hellawell out, and he's offered to step down. But the final decision is in Ashley's gift, given his 55 percent stake. The good news for Sports Direct shareholders is that Ashley is prepared to act. But he won't be bullied. 

Less welcome will be that Sports Direct's management is pretty much all in the hands of its controlling shareholder.

Cynics would say that it's always been the Mike show. But now it really is. He's got the top job, the current finance director is only on an interim appointment, and the chairman's operating under a stay of execution. The company hasn't said whether Ashley's installation as chief executive is permanent or temporary until a replacement can be found.

Forsey has acknowledged in the past that his main role was to protect Ashley. With him gone, so is that human shield.

Running Out of Road
Sports Direct's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization are set to fall
Source: Bloomberg
2017 is the company's forecast

Ashley has made a series of promises over recent weeks -- including most recently an independent review of working practices and corporate governance. There's also the small matter of improving profitability after a string of warnings.

Without Forsey, the buck -- or rather the wad of rolled-up fifty-pound notes -- really stops with Ashley.

He says he has no plans to take the company private, but without Forsey's protection, the temptation to move out of the public gaze might just prove too much.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Andrea Felsted in London at afelsted@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jennifer Ryan at jryan13@bloomberg.net