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Business News

Debenhams boss retires with upbeat message

The chief executive of Debenhams, Rob Templeman, sprung a surprise yesterday, revealing he will retire in September after nearly eight years at the department store chain.

Alongside his departure, Debenhams unveiled a rise in half-year profits to £125.3m and reinstated its dividend payment for the first time since October 2008. Michael Sharp, the deputy chief executive of Debenhams, will take over the top job on 5 September in what was described as a "well managed" succession process.

Mr Templeman said he did "not have any" plans and hinted at wanting a break from travelling around the country five or six times a week visiting stores, not only at Debenhams but also at other retailers including the DIY chain Homebase over a 30-year career.

"I have not had a day off for 30 years, apart from holidays," he said.

Mr Templeman will remain as aconsultant to Debenhams for up to one year after his retirement.

His tenure at Debenhams has not been without its up and downs, notably over the retailer's flotation at 195p in May 2006 with a mountain of debt that was still as high as £923m two years ago. However, Mr Templeman has now cut its debts to £351.6m, helped by a £323m rights issue in 2009.

He has also grown profits over the last three years, boosted by a huge shift in the retailer's product offer towards higher-margin, own label brands away from concessions.

Debenhams has restored its dividend with an interim payment of 1p.

Mr Templeman – who joined Debenhams as chief executive in 2003 when it was acquired by private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and TPG – is unlikely to be short of offers from buy-out companies or other big retailers.

Mr Sharp took his current role at the retailer in November 2008, but he has worked at Debenhams or its predecessor, The Burton Group, since 1985.

Over the half year to 26 February, Debenhams grew pre-tax profits by 4 per cent to £125.3m, on total sales up 3.2 per cent to £1.46bn.

Its like-for-like sales, excluding VAT, slipped by 1.5 per cent.

Mr Templeman forecast a "tough" year for consumers but said that since the half year end the chain's weekly sales had actually had been higher.

"Everyone is talking about doom and gloom [but] we don't recognise the fall off in figures everyone is talking about."