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Chairman and chief executive of N Brown Group to retire, making way for ‘new generation’ of multichannel retailers

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N Brown Group’s chief executive and chairman have announced plans to retire, handing over to a “new generation” of multichannel retailers.

Chairman Lord Alliance said that he would retire at the end of 2012 after more than 40 years in the role, handing over to Andrew Higginson, previously an executive director at Tesco. Chief executive Alan White said he aimed to retire in the second half of 2013, after a quarter of a century at the company, the last 10 in his current job – and once a replacement is found and settled in the job.

The news comes at a time when online sales now account for almost 53% of total sales at the home shopping group, which owns brands including Figleaves, Simply Be, Jacamo and High & Mighty.

Lord Alliance bought mail order business JD Williams in 1963 for £1.44m. Since then he has built up a multichannel home shopping business that in its last financial year posted sales of £753m and pre-tax profits of £97m.

Today he said: “After over 40 years as chairman of N Brown, I felt the time had come to pass on the role to a new generation which can continue to exploit the potential of multi-channel retailing. We have come a long way from the Manchester mail order business I bought in 1963 and today more than half our sales are online. The company is in great shape, and will benefit from an injection of new blood and new ideas.”

Andrew Higginson said: “I am very excited at the prospect of joining N Brown as chairman. Under the current management, the company has positioned itself brilliantly in the online home shopping market while retaining the loyalty of its traditional mail order customer base. It is a company with a long tradition of providing service, convenience and value for money to its customers, many of whom have shopped with it from generation to generation.”

The company said in its interim management statement, also out today, that it was taking a second online brand to the high street.

Its growing chain of Simply Be stores, which started as a experiment to take pureplay brands multichannel through the opening of stores, will now stock the Jacamo menswear range. The range will appear on the mezzanine floors of existing Simply Be stores in Liverpool and Gateshead as well as its Manchester store when it opens in September 2012.

Updating the markets on its sales figures, N Brown Group said total sales rose by 2.5% in the 17 weeks to June 20, with like-for-like growth up by 1.9%. Online sales now account for almost 53% of total sales. Growth in sales of discounted or value items meant profit margins were currently 1% less than forecast.

Lord Alliance said: “Neither the prevailing economic backdrop nor the weather conditions are helpful to our business. However our flexible business model allows us to target the marketing investment and manage our cost base in order to deliver the best result in any given circumstances.

“This flexibility, combined with the focus on our key initiatives and the continuing strong financial position of the group, underpins and maintains the board’s confidence in the future.”

Also leaving at the end of 2012 are non-executive directors Lord Stone of Blackheath, after a 10-year stint, and Nigel Alliance, who has been a director of the company since 1969 and is now retiring. The announcements come as N Brown Group holds its annual general meeting.

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