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Business Comment

Simon English: Mike Ashley's approach looks like the right way to go

Outlook It might horrify some to think that the future of the high street is Mike Ashley rather than Marks & Sparks, but, casual snobbery aside, why not?

Sports Direct stores don't promise much, but that does at least mean a visit doesn't leave you disappointed (the opposite applies at M&S).

Yesterday's move by Sports Direct – the pile 'em high retailer Mr Ashley majority owns – into Austria and the Baltics shows that he doesn't lack for ambition. And the ownership structure of Sports Direct, which includes a highly incentivised set of staff on the shop floor, looks miles better than M&S's.

One all-powerful founding owner who cares deeply about the business – it is his life's work, after all – seems bound to yield more than a lumbering old timer in which no one is willing to take more than 10 per cent.When Mr Ashley first floated Sports Direct in 2007 it was at an ambitious-looking 300p a share. They quickly crashed, leaving the City moaning.

Mr Ashley, to his credit, stood his ground and hit back with the idea that the Square Mile is largely occupied by "cry babies" who squeal every time things don't go their way.

You weren't forced to buy my shares, he was saying. But since you did, you need to look further into the future than the next five minutes. Sports Direct shares are now more than 500p, a reward for those who sat tight rather than panicked.

Mr Ashley looks like the smartest retailer in Britain, if not the best dressed. However, the fact that he regards the City with disdain is another reason to think he might know what he's doing.