Matalan’s new managing director Jason Hargreaves, the son of billionaire founder John Hargreaves, won’t need to be showing round the retailer’s head office in Skelmersdale, Lancashire.

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He started working in the family fashion business at the age of eight and was at his father’s side at Matalan’s inception in 1985.

“Someone asked me if he had enough experience,” jokes Matalan chairman Allan Leighton. “He’s been around for a long time.”

Now 45, Jason is taking the reins of the family business, bringing it back into the tight control of the Hargreaves family for the first time since 1996, when his father stepped down as chief executive.  

The new boss, who replaces chief executive Darren Blackhurst, is keen to return the retailer’s offer to John Hargreaves’ original vision to offer Marks & Spencer quality at half the price, Leighton adds.

But it is his knowledge of the business and his strong skills in product and sourcing that landed him the position.  

Leighton says: “He was sourcing director before they promoted him last week. He is wise regarding in the family business and in his time at Matalan he has helped build the supply chain with his dad.

“From the family’s perspective, Jason has been the driving force at Matalan for the last three or four years.”

After climbing the ranks at Matalan, Jason is sure to be raring to get the value fashion chain in order at a time when competition in the value fashion market is heating up with Primark dominating the younger end, while Matalan vies with TK Maxx for the family fashion and homewares shoppers.

“We’ve got to be a lot more product-led and so it was very appropriate to have him there. We’ve got the new warehouse coming online, so he will be right front and centre of the business because he has all the expertise and the relationship with the suppliers,” Leighton adds.

It will be Jason’s first time leading a business and he is sure to take some advice from his father, who continues to take a keen interest in Matalan’s fortunes despite stepping down from the business as chairman in 2007.

Jason is not the only member of the media-shy Hargreaves family to find retail running through their veins. His sister Maxine bought womenswear retailer Fenn Wright Manson out of administration last year, while Jamie Hargreaves works within the brand empire owned by the Hargreaves family.

Jason will be expected to steady the ship as he becomes the seventh boss of the business in the last 12 years.

In the past few weeks Matalan has lost its finance director, Paul Gilbert who was last week replaced by Stephen Hill, and Retail Week revealed its director of merchandising Jonathon Fitzgerald is set to depart at the end of summer.

The retailer has endured a difficult first quarter with sales down 7.2% to £258.6m in the quarter to May 25. Hargreaves will hope he can turn sales around and emulate the 10% surge in EBITDA to £100m reported in its last full-year update to February 23

Leighton explains: “A big product overhaul has started because we lost our way with the product. The biggest driver for Jason will be the supply chain and infrastructure to ensure that the right products are sold in the right size and at the right time.”

“The product is still not right,” Leighton says. “We are significantly better than we were but autumn/winter will be transformational.”

Leighton believes the changes already taking shape, combined with Jason’s strong leadership qualities and “funny but demanding and tough” approach will whip Matalan into shape.

“Jason is a very engaging character and he is very street-smart,” he says. “He also has a lot of respect in the business because he has been there for a long time. He is not afraid to make tough decisions.”

Although Jason may have inherited the sharp entrepreneurial skills of his father, Leighton insists that he also has a great sense of humour.

It may be a key quality that stands him in good stead going forward after he became a father to twins five weeks ago, growing his brood to three.

With further Hargreaves entering the world it appears the family dynasty within Matalan may be set to enter another generation.  

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