Ashley's former right-hand man orders strategic review
JJB Sports majority shareholder Chris Ronnie has launched a strategic review and will unveil his plans for the sportswear giant in the next four to six weeks.

In his first interview since buying - along with fellow investor Exista - a controlling 29 per cent stake in JJB from founder Dave Whelan, Ronnie told Retail Week that he believes there are great opportunities for the chain.

'In a business such as JJB, there is huge potential,' said the former Umbro chief operating officer and Sports Direct executive. 'Exista and I are sitting down with everyone in the business at the moment.'

Ronnie was appointed deputy chief executive of JJB following the£190 million deal. He will work alongside chief executive Tom Knight, taking responsibility for sourcing, product development and retail operations.

Ronnie declined to comment on rumours that Exista would launch a takeover bid or break-up of the business. He also dismissed suggestions that he is in cahoots with his former Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley as 'pure speculation'. He said: 'I left last October.' Exista also has links with Icelandic bank Kaupthing, which advised Ashley on his takeover of football club Newcastle United.

Ronnie is said to be more straightforward than the reclusive Ashley, who has ruffled the City's feathers with his secretive stance.

The surprise JJB deal followed a poor trading statement for the 18 weeks to June 3. Sales dropped 1.2 per cent and like-for-likes were down 1.8 per cent.

Whelan stirred controversy by offloading his stake after assuring the market in January that he would not sell shares for at least 12 months.

One analyst said that Ronnie was likely to focus on shortening product lead times, JJB's own-label stock and to consider complementary product ranges.

He said: 'Knight did a very good job tying up Nike and Adidas and they seem to be progressing well, but most products are sourced on a seven-month lead time.

'JJB are in awe of sourcing at Sports Direct because it has got short lead-times, but hasn't sacrificed quality. There is an element of fashionability in some of JJB's range and it doesn't have an own-brand on a short lead time.'

Speculation that the deal would reignite price wars between JJB and Sports Direct may be over-egged, according to the analyst. 'I think it is more likely that they both understand each other and where they are going,' he said.