Dark days for Blacks after boss resigns

Blacks Leisure chairman and director David Bernstein has hung up his hiking boots after a spat with Mike Ashley...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Bernstein reckons current trading is so tough that whoever’s at the helm needs the full backing of shareholders in order to navigate their way back to growth. This comes only a week after he was re-appointed as chairman by a majority of 78% at the annual shareholders meeting. Which normally going on would be a perfectly decent level of backing.  

But who should be opposing him? This is a tightly-knit corner of the retail world, and rival retailer Sports Direct owns 21% of the shares. It’ll come as no surprise to find Mike Ashley appearing as the one throwing the spanner into the works and saying he wants Bernstein to go.

It’s not exactly great timing for Blacks to lose such a key figure – Bernstein’s been on the board since 1995 and chairman for over a decade, and Neil Gillis, the group’s CEO, also hiked off in February. With like-for-like sales for the last quarter declining 9.7% on last year they’ll need an experienced hand to get them back on the profit trail. Blacks has already had to extend its credit facilities to get more capital and rumours have persisted that Ashley is himself circling for a bid.

It must be galling for Bernstein to have to deal with an aggressive rival like that, especially when they’re getting the kind of results you’d give your spare tent pegs for. Sports Direct had a 32% jump in underlying profits last year – fuelled by a remarkable 6.6% jump in UK like-for-like sales. That's impressive stuff at a time when most of the high street is running just to stand still.

Bernstein and Ashley’s spat went public last week, with the Newcastle FC chairman urging Bernstein to go, claiming he’d failed to meet hto discuss the business. A spokesman for Blacks countered that claim in The Daily Telegraph last week: ‘David was prepared to meet them but he wanted some clarity given Sports Direct’s aggressive and bullying tactics in the past.’ Is it us, or do such traits tend to be cited whenever Ashley’s involved?

It’s a marvel that aggressive and outspoken footballer Joey Barton is being sidelined at Newcastle. Given their similarities you’d have thought Ashley would make him permanent captain. Note that Bernstein is also chairman of England's Football Association: perhaps he should spite his rival by taking the player that Ashley’s club has publicly sidelined and granting him the England captaincy instead...?

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