Fenwick has poached Sainsbury’s Argos commercial director Robbie Feather as its first chief executive from outside the founding family, Retail Week can reveal.

Feather, who has been at Sainsbury’s since 2011, will join the privately-owned department store business in January.

His present role will be filled by James Brown, currently commercial director of Sainsbury’s, who joined the grocer in 2011. 

Feather will be charged with shaping and executing Fenwick’s multichannel strategy, which is being bankrolled by a £55m investment over the next three years.

The retailer is ploughing £30m into revamping its Newcastle flagship store and a further £25m into enhancing its multichannel credentials, including modernising IT and back-office systems.

Feather has previous experience in department store retailing, having spent two years as buying director for John Lewis’ electricals and home technology department.

He started his retail career as a category manager at supermarket giant Asda, but departed in 1999 after co-founding bedroom furniture and mattress chain Feather & Black.

Following a decade as managing director of the business, Feather joined John Lewis and then took charge of Sainsbury’s general merchandise division in August 2011.

Feather was promoted to the role of online director in May 2014 and became commercial director of Argos following Sainsbury’s £1.4bn acquisition of Home Retail Group in September 2016.

Feather said: “It’s a real privilege to be joining the Fenwick team. This is a rare opportunity to work with an iconic British retail brand, underpinned by strong family and social values.

“There is huge potential to build on the company’s heritage and I very much look forward to getting on board.”

Fenwick chairman Richard Pennycook said: “I’m delighted that Robbie has decided to join Fenwick. He brings with him an intuitive understanding of retail, the drive and creativity of an entrepreneur and a proven track record in leadership.

“He arrives at a key point in the development of the company and I wish him every success.”