This week it was confirmed that Jack Wills has drafted in former Jigsaw chief financial officer Claire Wain to fill the same role on its executive team.
The appointment of Wain is notable, and welcome, as a rare example of where women now hold the positions of both chief executive and CFO at a UK high street retailer. Former Debenhams trading director Suzanne Harlow was appointed to lead the business back in September.
Wain will join Jack Wills in April having spent 18 years working for some of the sector’s most familiar brands. Prior to Jigsaw, where she successfully led the refinancing and recapitalisation of the business, Wain worked as director of group finance at Mothercare and has also held a variety of financial and planning roles at John Lewis Partnership.
She joins Jack Wills at a time when the retailer’s finances are once again giving cause for concern. Having recorded its first profit in five years in 2017, the business swung back to a full-year loss in its latest financial year with sales also suffering a small reverse.
The company is not alone among its high street fashion rivals in blaming a highly competitive clothing market and strained consumer finances for a lacklustre performance, but the noises emanating from the new leadership team suggest there is optimism the business can return to profitable growth.
As someone who has worked in businesses that have faced their own financial challenges, Wain’s counsel in the months ahead will be important
Harlow will need support from Wain and other key executives such as multichannel director Mark Wright and marketing director Claire Waugh to make that happen. Having spent two decades at Debenhams, latterly as trading director, Harlow was parachuted into the Jack Wills hot seat by private equity owners BlueGem after co-founder and chief executive Peter Williams was ousted from the business.
Harlow was able to hit the ground running having already acted as a consultant to the retailer from early 2018. She has identified the need to update the brand’s product offer and ensure its customer proposition remains relevant as key strategic priorities.
As someone who has worked in businesses – such as Jigsaw and Mothercare – that have faced their own financial challenges, Wain’s counsel in the months ahead will be important.
But these are fraught times for high street brands and neither Harlow nor Wain will underestimate the scale of the task that lies ahead if Jack Wills is to reassert its status as the brand of choice for affluent young consumers.