Wolfson backs son's move on to Next board

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The Independent Online
Next chairman Lord Wolfson yesterday defended the appointment of his 29-year-old son Simon Wolfson to the board of the retail group and said he had received no complaints from investors.

Lord Wolfson said he did not expect any objection from institutions at Next's annual meeting in May "unless the shareholders have had a collective bout of insanity". He added: "I have spoken to our institutional investors and they are not remotely worried about it."

Lord Wolfson said the fact that Simon Wolfson was his son had probably delayed his elevation to the board. "If anything, the appointment is overdue not premature. In my view they [Next] have had him far too cheap for too long."

However Pirc, the corporate governance lobbying group, has expressed concerns about the appointment which was announced last month. Pirc said yesterday it would wait to receive the Next annual report before deciding whether to raise an objection at the AGM.

Simon Wolfson joined Next in 1991 when he was 23. He has been sales and marketing manager of the Next brand since 1993 and is regarded highly by chief executive David Jones, who made the appointment.

Lord Wolfson's forthright comments came as Next reported another set of sparkling results with annual pre-tax profits 12 per cent ahead at pounds 158m. The shares rose 22.5p to 618.5p, close to their record high.

With the high street stores and the Next Directory catalogue enjoying booming sales, the company is pondering a move into financial services. Mr Jones said Next had held talks with possible partners and would make a decision in the next 12 months.

Next is also planning to expand its franchise operations this year. Four will open in Japan, four in the Far East and three in the Middle East, with four more to open in Europe. Next is losing money with its four stores in the US but will add one more store there this year. The single store in France is performing below expectations and there are no plans for more.

The company said it was not interested in the Littlewoods stores chain, which is up for sale, but may be interested in half a dozen sites. Next is gaining market share with sales of menswear, womenswear and childrenswear all strong.

Lord Wolfson brushed aside suggestions of a possible link-up with Great Universal Stores, the mail order retailer where he is also chairman. He said there were no advantages that were immediately apparent.