Iverson pays a price

Good Times, Bad Times: The Business Personalities Of The Year
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Ann Iverson may not have watched her family castle burn down, but 1997 was still an annus horribilis for the outspoken former chief executive of fashion chain Laura Ashley Holdings.

Two years after becoming the retailer's fourth chief executive in 12 years and embarking on an aggressive expansion plan, the 53-year-old American found herself out of work. Three profit warnings in six months, a 77 per cent fall in the share price in a year, and forecasts of an impending loss exhausted the patience of the board.

Ironically, profit for the year ended January 1997 was 57 per cent higher than the previous year and the company's shares stood at 168.5 pence. Ms Iverson, who once described herself as "brutally aggressive", pocketed her 1996 pay cheque for pounds 1m as she prepared to open rafts of stores to build on the success of the Laura Ashley brand.

But Ms Iverson's personality didn't endear her to everyone. Several senior staff left the company, including noted Californian designer Basha Cohen, whom Ms Iverson had employed to inject a new spark into the fading popularity of Laura Ashley's flowery, country-style clothing.

Despite a Vogue photo of Ms Iverson wearing a black leather coat and seemingly little else, she failed to impress City analysts. They were left wondering what was going on at the company, and as the truth slowly emerged, they voted with their feet.