Spotlight on...Ng Kwan Cheong, Incoming chief executive, Laura Ashley


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The Independent Online

They say you should never come back...

So they do. But Mr Cheong has actually hardly been away. He's been serving Laura Ashley as president for the last few years.

And during his last stint as chief executive of the business he had a company that looked like it was in its death spiral turning a profit in fairly short order.

But he does rather, how can I say it, look like a girl?

Very well noticed. But that indeed is not Mr Cheong, that's Laura Ashley. Not the shop, but the late Welsh fashion designer, who founded the business in her attic flat with her husband, Bernard, in 1953. Mr Cheong, a Malaysian, is famously publicity shy. In an industry full of big personalities with even bigger mouths, he's the invisible man. It seems photographs of him just don't exist.

He's taking over at a tough time though?

So it would appear. But while consumers may be suffering from an unprecedented squeeze, it seems that the floral dresses and prints that Laura Ashley is famed for are still selling like hot cakes. Despite the gloom on the high street the company reported like-for-like sales growth of 1.4 per cent in the first 19 weeks of the second half of its financial year to 19 December. Year to date like-for-like growth was 2.5 per cent.

Perhaps he should shout it from the roof tops then?

Well, perhaps the credit should go to the current chief executive (Mr Cheong officially takes control next month), Lillian Tan. Last month it emerged that she was leaving to "pursue other interests" after seven years in the job. Read into that what you will.

Will the corporate colours continue to be black?

You mean can Laura Ashley continue to make money under Mr Cheong? Well, City wags used to say its corporate colours were red before he took over following a rescue by Malaysian United Industries, aka MUI (which pumped in £44m). He turned it around against a background of falling prices and falling sales, which isn't far off how the broader high street looks right now.