Chris Ronnie, a UK industry veteran who acted most recently as chief executive of Dunlop Slazenger, has become chief executive of JJB Sports following the departure of Tom Knight, who steered the company for 5 years after long stints at Adidas and at Blacks Leisure Group, among other assignments. Ronnie will thus head up the British retail chain that competes most directly with Sports Direct International, the retail and wholesale conglomerate owned by his long-time friend and former employer Mike Ashley.
According to The Sunday Telegraph, Knight left JJB in frustration over his inability to carry out a management buyout of the company earlier this summer. Instead David Whelan, JJB’s founder, decided to sell his family’s 29 percent stake to Ronnie and its financial backers for £190 million (€281m-$387m) in June. Ronnie was appointed as deputy chief executive.
A seasoned executive who has witnessed all the upheavals in British sports retailing over the last decades, Knight will remain at JJB for another six months to ensure a smooth transition, formally taking care of special projects. He intends to switch subsequently to private equity. Knight has led JJB through a rough battle against Sports World by upgrading store presentation, placing more emphasis on specialist products and teaming up with leading brands to set up hundreds of shop-in-shop displays in JJB stores.
Ronnie is another old hand in the sports business, with an executive resumé that includes Umbro, Diadora and other companies. He left Dunlop Slazenger last year. While Knight worked most intensely to reposition JJB in the face of Sports World’s price-slashing, achieving structural improvements, Ronnie is now expected to concentrate on the bottom line.
Another JJB departee is Roger Best, a former top executive of Reebok and former executive chairman at the rival John David Group, who will relinquish his function of non-executive director at JJB Sports to concentrate on his position as chief executive of Radley & Co, the supplier of Radley and Tula bags. His replacement is Alan Benzie, former senior partner of KPMG. The non-executive board will be further reinforced by the appointment of David Jones, former chairman and chief executive officer of Next, and current non-executive chairman of Littlewoods Mail Order. He will be joining JJB’s non-executive board in September.