Outlook: Iverson made things worse at Laura Ashley

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The Independent Online
When she was appointed as chief executive of Laura Ashley, Anne Iverson must have known she was taking on one of the toughest jobs in British retailing. Unfortunately she seems to have made her task tougher still by adopting an over-optimistic view about what could be achieved. Yesterday she duly paid the price.

Laura Ashley has been all at sea ever since its synonymous founder and inspiration died more than ten years ago. This is often the case with entrepreneurial companies after the visionary who created them passes away. In many respects, it is a miracle that Laura Ashley is still here at all, given the experimental management the company was subjected to and the degree to which it strayed from the principles, designs and culture that made it into a household name.

The situation was bad enough when the flame haired Mr Iverson arrived. Far from correcting the company's difficulties, her go getting, hands on, whirlwind approach to management seems to have made them worse. Her whole modus operandi tended towards the over-optimistic and the expansionary, but this proved to be the last thing that Laura Ashley needed.

Ms Iverson's biggest mistake was the big drive for expansion in the US, which she rightly saw as a natural for the Laura Ashley brand. Operationally, however, the company was never up to it, and the push has resulted in big losses. There was also a more fundamental difficulty. On the garments side of the business, she and others took the product in the wrong direction. Whatever that product now is, one thing is certain - it is not Laura Ashley. The new man in the job, David Hoare, a former Bainie, is likely to be much more suited to the calm, step by step, back to its origins approach this company really needs. The goals will be more modest, but the result should be a good deal more satisfactory.

Ms Iverson departs from the wreckage with a year's pay and plenty of time to pursue her friendship with Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy of Woolworths, with whom she has been romantically linked. This is perhaps more than she deserved.