Former Esprit chief product officer Colin Henry was appointed as the new chief executive of premium retailer Jaeger last week. Retail Week checks out his credentials.

Colin Henry, the new boss of fashion retailer Jaeger, enjoys a change of scenery once in a while. Having worked in Germany and currently living in France, the Aberdeen-born retailer is getting ready to return to London in preparation for his first day at the premium chain on July 15.

Henry, the former chief product officer at fashion retailer Esprit, takes up the chief executive role, filling the gap left by Stewart Binnie, the former executive chairman.

The move means leaving his full-time home in St Emilion, France which he bought a few years ago to renovate but will now become a holiday home.

“We bought it as a complete wreck and didn’t realise that it was a Unesco world heritage site, which means we couldn’t change anything without speaking to 101 people,” Henry exclaims. “It has been a real labour of love.”

Henry is clearly a man who likes a project and Jaeger-owner Better Capital will be hoping he can help restore the brand, which made a £8m loss in its financial year to February 29, 2012.

Henry is a self-confessed product person and in 2008 he was made an honorary fellow by the Royal College of Art. “I couldn’t draw or sketch if my life depended on it but I love product and my unique selling point is commercial creativity,” he says.

He says this love of product meant that it didn’t matter that he had never kicked a ball in his life when he started at football brand Umbro. Henry relocated to Manchester to take up the role and soon became an expert in the beautiful game.

“If you live in London, all you talk about is property prices but if you live in Manchester, all you talk about is football,” he says.

His time at Umbro was eventful; after four years working at the brand it was acquired by global sportswear giant Nike.

“The football brand caught the eye of the world’s biggest brands,” he says, “and suddenly I’m in New York and working with Kim Jones, the menswear creative director at Louis Vuitton. “

Henry set about transforming Umbro into an international sports player and expanding it into a lifestyle brand.

Scotsman Henry started his life in retail after dropping out of Glasgow University in his second year. He secured a place on Marks & Spencer’s management training course and worked his way up to senior merchandiser.

After 12 years at M&S, Henry moved on to the retailer’s largest supplier Coats-Viyella, which was the sister company to Jaeger at the time, and after a year he became managing director of its knitwear division.

He then moved to Polo Ralph Lauren, which he describes as “the most amazing experience”. As senior vice president of brand management he was tasked with bringing the 19 divisions of the brand into one unified business. He created a product merchandising team from scratch and worked across Paris, London and New York.

Henry enjoys getting out of his comfort zone and in his most recent role as chief product officer at Esprit he moved to Dusseldorf, Germany.

“Esprit had lost its soul and there was an opportunity to bring back its Californian identity,” he says.

But after two years Henry exited the retailer in August. “There were so many changes on the board that the uncertainty of the situation became too demanding what with also living in Germany,” he adds.

Since then Henry has taken some time out, enjoying the fruits of his labour at his St Emilion home, improving his French and becoming a bit of a wine buff, although only at the weekends he insists.

But Henry says he is now ready to get back into the rat-race and his next brand transformation.

He says it is too early to speak about his plans for Jaeger but seems well placed to expand the brand overseas. “International retailing comes second nature to me and the opportunity in other countries blows my mind,” he says.

If he can capitalise on this opportunity, then Jaeger may be his next successful makeover.

CV

  • 2010 - 2012 ESPRIT Chief product officer and member of executive board
  • 2008 – 2009 NIKE, Senior vice president – global product, design and merchandising (Umbro)
  • 2003 - 2007 UMBRO, Senior vice president – global product, design and marketing
  • 2000 - 2003 POLO RALPH LAUREN, Senior vice president brand management and supply chain (Europe)
  • 1997 - 2000 COATS-VIYELLA, Managing director-Coats Viyella Knitwear
  • 1984 - 1997 MARKS AND SPENCER, Senior merchandiser