Gillis exits Blacks after sale process is ended

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The Independent Online

Neil Gillis, the chief executive of Blacks Leisure, is to resign from the outdoor retail group a little over two weeks after it terminated a process to sell the company.

He will step down in six months' time, bringing down the curtain on an eventful tenure at the owner of the Blacks and Millets retail chains, which he joined in November 2007.

Under this leadership, Blacks was the target of several takeover approaches. Its dire financial position also forced it to implement a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), an insolvency procedure, in late 2009, which enabled it to shed 101 shops and avoid collapse.

Mr Gillis also had to contend with a colourful shareholder in Mike Ashley, the founder of rival retailer Sports Direct, who was also a suitor to buy Blacks on two occasions during Mr Gillis's reign.

Yesterday Mr Gillis said: "I am proud of what we have achieved with Blacks Leisure over the last three years. We took some difficult decisions to protect and strengthen the business during a very turbulent period and an intensely competitive environment in outdoor retail."

But shares in Blacks fell sharply under his leadershipship from 255.3p on 1 November 2007 to 24p yesterday. However, Mr Gillis inherited a struggling business, particularly a boardwear division ,Sandcity – which operated the Freespirit and O'Neill shops – that was in freefall.

Mr Gillis ditched its boardwear arm. He said yesterday. "The exit from the loss-making Sandcity business, the reduction in central overheads of £9m, the successful implementation of the CVAs and the success of the new store rollout programme were the key steps to position the business for the recovery." While the company now runs 101 Blacks and 208 Millets stores, its 10 new-format stores now account for 12 per cent of the group's turnover.

News of his resignation came just 15 days after Blacks terminated discussions with three suitors –including Argos's owner Home Retail – over a potential takeover.

If Blacks had been acquired, it is understood that Mr Gillis would not have received a pay out. However, he would have received the equivalent of one year's salary. Blacks was a beneficiary of the cold weather before Christmas and its like-for-like sale rose by 10.2 per cent for the month to 30 December. For the 26 weeks to 28 August 2010, the group reduced its losses to £8.5m from £15.2m the previous year.