Mike Shearwood was able to breathe a little easier last week when Aurora Fashions posted its first profit.
It was evidence of the health and continued appeal of the retailer’s stable of brands, including Oasis and Karen Millen, after a tumultuous 18 months for Aurora and its chief executive.
Although Shearwood is a little greyer at the temples following the tribulations of that time, he was always confident that the business would thrive again. “The key thing you have to remember is that all the brands were, and are, good brands,” he explains.
So he, chairman Derek Lovelock, who Shearwood succeeded as chief executive, and the rest of the Aurora team never doubted the fundamental strength of a retail business undermined by financial arrangements rather than a problem with the shopkeeping.
Shearwood insists Aurora’s success is a team effort. “Don’t make this all about me,” he pleads. “It should be about all our people.”
That team approach helped during Mosaic’s problems and the birth of Aurora. “Historically, at Mosaic and Aurora there’s always been a great belief in open communication,” says Shearwood. “All the time we were going through it the whole senior team was involved. They were part of the solution right from the beginning.”
Shearwood’s original appointment at the retailer was itself reflective of team dynamics. Hired as deputy chief executive it was always clear that Shearwood would succeed Lovelock, now executive chairman.
But he was brought on board to bring skills that would complement the established leadership triumvirate of Lovelock, finance boss Richard Glanville and Meg Lustman, now managing director of Aurora’s Warehouse chain and formerly strategy supremo.
After being appointed to Aurora, Lovelock recalls, Shearwood spent three weeks out in stores before coming to head office.
Lovelock says: “Having cut his teeth on the retail ops side, Mike naturally brought a better balance.” He says Shearwood is “all about delivering results” and has brought property strengths too.
On the back of Aurora’s results, Shearwood - a qualified optician who spent 17 years at Vision Express before Inditex - can focus on leading Aurora’s growth strategy, which includes ramping up multichannel operations and international expansion.
In the last year Aurora notched up a 10% sales increase at its international division, which now accounts for a third of sales. The retailer has bought out some franchisees in order to profit more from overseas opportunities.
Online, sales climbed 23% to £42m. In the current year Aurora will open local language websites for some European countries and Karen Millen and Coast will launch dedicated US sites.
Lovelock says: “He is a man for whom nothing is impossible. If someone says something can’t be done, he’ll wait to prove it can. I’ve never met anyone so competitive, right down to trying to be first into the office.”
Rugby fanatic Shearwood has survived the financial meltdown scrum and is heading for the try line.
Family Married with six children
Likes Sports, especially rugby
Last holiday The Maldives