Mothercare boss Mark Newton-Jones has had a very strange month. A few weeks ago he was sacked – with almost no notice – after being told results weren’t good enough. On Thursday he was sensationally rehired.
It marks an upturn in a tumultuous four years for the struggling retailer’s chief executive. Mothercare announced on Thursday it would close 50 stores as part of a rescue plan.
That caused shares to shoot up 30 per cent suggesting many investors had been predicting the chain would go bust.
But who is the chief executive so good they hired him twice?
By the time he joined Mothercare in 2014, Newton-Jones’ had almost three decades of retail experience beginning in the stockroom at Next, aged 18.
He rose through the ranks to become a senior manager before running Next Directory, the fashion chain’s catalogue and internet arm. In 2003 he joined Shop Direct, which owns Littlewoods and Very.
Shop Direct, which is owned by Telegraph proprietors Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, had been a collection of declining brands but expanded rapidly during Newton-Jones’s time there.
Littlewoods’ loss-making stores closed in 2005 and the company targeted online sales growth. Newton-Jones became chief executive in 2005 and drove the firm’s transformation into one of the UK’s largest online and catalogue retailers.
The 50-year-old from Solihull announced in 2012 that he planned to leave Shop Direct for a new challenge, but said he would stay on for another year to steer the company through what he predicted would be a difficult time.
He told the Telegraph in January 2012: “I just decided over Christmas, could I commit to another three to five years at the company?
“I’ve already done eight here and I think I could do 10, but I think after that it’s time to do something else.”
True to his word, he stuck it out before the move to Mothercare as interim chief executive in March 2014 after the sudden departure of his predecessor Simon Calver.
The rot had already started at the babycare specialist. Six weeks earlier it had revealed disastrous Christmas sales.
Mothercare chair Alan Parker had kind words to say about the new hire: “We are delighted to have secured the appointment of Mark as our interim CEO.
“His leadership skills and depth of experience in retailing through stores and online will further enhance our drive to deliver the recovery of the UK business to complement the strong and growing international operations.”
Parker’s comments were in sharp contrast to those he made last month when sacking Newton-Jones minutes before announcing his replacement as chief executive.
“I spoke to Mark and I think he understands and appreciates why this decision has been taken but nevertheless these things are a surprise when they happen,” Mr Parker said.
‘We have looked at the results over the last few years and frankly we have been disappointed. The share price, the performance of the company and the results have not been what anybody wanted, and sooner or later the time has to come for the board to take a decision on that.”
Two weeks later, Parker was out, and now Newton-Jones is back in, with a very difficult job on his hands trying to turn Mothercare around.