Just a month after JD Sports formerly took over Go Outdoors, a new chief executive has been appointed.

Claire Webb, Go Outdoors

Claire Webb, Go Outdoors

Claire Webb

Go Outdoors’ chief financial officer Claire Webb took the top job at the outdoor specialist this week after Chris Matthews resigned just a month after JD Sports’ acquisition of the business was given the green light.

Taking over from Matthews as chief executive is Hull University graduate Webb’s first MD role. She has spent two years at Go Outdoors and before that spent a decade leading Maplin’s finance function, making this her first chief executive role.

Former boss, Maplin chief executive Oli Meakin is confident that Webb’s transition to the top seat will be smooth.

“She’s not what one might view as a typical finance director who is good at the numbers and not very good at communicating, she’s a great enthusiast and very personable,” he says.

“Being a Northerner, she’s pretty direct, open and honest, which is how people need to be in business.”

Northern roots

Webb’s roots will hold her in good stead with Go Outdoors’ new owner, Northern retail powerhouse JD Sports, which snapped up the business for £112m in November last year.

The new boss of the outdoors specialist will report directly to JD Sports executive chairman and Lancashire native Peter Cowgill.

“Claire’s very intelligent, and just because she’s been CFO doesn’t mean she hasn’t been exposed to all the key drivers of a business – she’s clear on the levers that you need to pull to run a successful retailer”

Maplin boss Oli Meakin

Retail Week Prospect analyst Rebecca Marks says: “Her appointment from CFO to [chief executive] is interesting, bearing in mind that it follows the same path of Cowgill.

“Given his turnaround of JD, understanding the Go Outdoors business from a financial perspective is clearly something Cowgill is keen on.”

Meakin agrees that Webb’s financial background will hold her in good stead in her new role.

“JD Sports is a big business, so when they bought Go Outdoors they probably knew they didn’t need to have a CEO and CFO,” he says.

“Claire’s very intelligent, and just because she’s been CFO doesn’t mean she hasn’t been exposed to all the key drivers of a business – she’s clear on the levers that you need to pull to run a successful retailer.”

JD’s outdoor empire

Go Outdoors has certainly been successsful in recent years, and has reported climbing profits and sales since 2013.

“Given the weak performance in JD’s outdoor fascia to date, Webb will need to ensure Go Outdoors continues to complement Blacks and Millets and not out-shadow all the work it has done to improve their performances over the last year or so”

Retail Week Prospect analyst Rebecca Marks

One of Webb’s priorities in her new role will be bolstering JD Sports’ outdoor division, which it created when it bought Blacks and Millets out of administration in 2012. The operation turned a profit for the first time last year.

“Given the weak performance in JD’s outdoor fascia to date, Webb will need to ensure Go Outdoors continues to complement Blacks and Millets and not out-shadow all the work it has done to improve their performances over the last year or so,” says Marks.

However, a source close to the retailer does not think this will be a significant concern for Webb.

“Blacks historically has been quite premium, certainly compared with Millets and, when combined with Go Outdoors’ out-of-town format, the outdoors division will cover off quite a broad spectrum of the market and cater to different types of shoppers,” he says.

Webb will likely also be looking to leverage the scale of JD Sports’ outdoor division to drive business synergies, be it through buying larger volumes of stock or snapping up products that can be sold across its different fascias at more competitive prices.

However, the same source believes that maintaining momentum at Go Outdoors will be Webb’s top priority.

“There’s plenty of independent growth to come from Go Outdoors, so it will continue to roll out stores,” he says, adding that JD Sports’ investment and international prowess could also lead to a move overseas for the outdoors retailer in the years ahead.

Whether she is ploughing ahead on UK expansion, working with Go Outdoors’ new stablemates or eyeing an international roll-out, Cowgill can be confident that Webb has the experience and business savvy to navigate the trek ahead.