Former Woolworths boss in line to be JJB Sports chief executive

'Class act' Steve Johnson approached as the sports retailer is forced to postpone £100m rights issue
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The Independent Online

Steve Johnson, the chief executive of Woolworths when it collapsed last year, has been approached by advisers to JJB about becoming the struggling sports retailer's chief executive.

It's believed that Lazard, which advises JJB, has spoken to Mr Johnson about taking over at the helm of the chain, which is currently without a chief executive after the acrimonious exit of Chris Ronnie earlier in the year.

On Friday, JJB was forced to postpone a £100m rights issue after investors in the firm, believed to be Schroders and Toscafund, raised concerns about the financial dealings of the company's chair, Sir David Jones. Earlier in the day the UK Listing Authority held up the cash call over what was described as a "mystery accounting issue".

Mr Johnson is currently working as an adviser to Valco, the private equity arm of the restructuring firm Hilco, which is overhauling failed retailer, Allied Carpets.

A source familiar with the situation said: "Johnson came in far too late to turn Woolies around. He is a class act but I'm not sure if he will want to return to such a high profile role and to a company which is in such a mess."

JJB, chaired by Sir David, the veteran retailer who resurrected the Next retail group in the 1990s, has hired the headhunter Egon Zehnder to conduct a search for a new chief executive.

It emerged in the summer that Sir David and Mr Ronnie had planned to take JJB private in a deal backed by the failed Icelandic bank, Kaupthing, although relations between the pair have since soured.

JJB Sports, which is already the subject of investigations by the Office of Fair Trading and Serious Fraud Office over price-fixing, will tomorrow seek to assuage investor concerns over the postponement of its £100m rights issue.

The capital-raising imbroglio comes after JJB narrowly avoided going into administration in April when the retailer's creditors agreed to a company voluntary arrangement (CVA).