Former Esporta boss to head Blacks

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The Independent Online

Blacks Leisure has appointed Neil Gillis, previously the head of gym chain Esporta, as its new chief executive, awarding him a share-based reward package that could be worth £2.5m if he successfully revives the retailer.

Mr Gillis has been drafted in to replace Russell Hardy, who stood down earlier this year after a substantial deterioration in trading. During his tenure, profits collapsed from £21m to £100,000 despite substantial restructuring. Shares in Blacks have lost around 40 per cent in value this year, not helped by an unseemly spat between the board and Mike Ashley, the company's largest shareholder, over a restructuring of the business and the possible sale of the Free Spirit surfwear chain.

Mr Gillis, 42, has spent 20 years in the consumer goods and leisure industries in the UK, most recently as chief executive of Esporta. The gym chain was sold in March this year for more than double its value when Mr Gillis took over. He has also held executive positions at the brewer Greene King and Cadbury Schweppes' drinks unit and was previously the head of "Linda McCartney" foods division of Heinz.

On top of a £300,000 salary and bonuses, Mr Gillis will be entitled to options over 1 million shares. The options will vest on the second, third and fourth anniversaries of his appointment if the share price hits respective targets of 350p, 425p and 500p. The options will lapse if the company is sold over the coming year, but will fully vest after that date.

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