LONDON — It has been an intense six months of changes at the top of the big British department stores, with Liberty and Harvey Nichols shuffling senior management. Now, it’s Harrods’ turn, with the abrupt departure of chief merchant Helen David.
Harrods confirmed on Thursday that David, who’d spent a decade in various roles at the store, has left. The company declined to comment on who would succeed her, and industry sources said there is no immediate plan to replace her.
“After 10 successful years, Helen David is stepping down from her role as chief merchant to pursue new ventures. Helen’s talent and drive have been instrumental in the continued success of Harrods, and she has made an outstanding contribution to the business,” the company confirmed.
Harrods added that David “decided the time is right to explore other opportunities. We are very grateful for her dedication throughout her tenure, and wish her the best for the future.” Known for her business smarts and sharp sense of humor, David also had a reputation as a tough negotiator.
She is thought to have left following differences with management and with Harrods’ owners Qatar Investment Authority, according to industry sources.
She was promoted to chief merchant in August 2016 and was the first person to fill the role following the departure of Marigay McKee, who left the store in 2013 to become president of Saks Fifth Avenue. McKee has since left Saks and runs her own company, MM Luxe Consulting.
David originally joined Harrods in 2008 and oversaw projects including Shoe Heaven, Superbrands, Mini Superbrands and the refurbishment of the Fine Jewellery rooms. As reported, the store has been budgeting about 50 million pounds a year in capital expenditure, with recent launches including the Wellness Clinic and an expanded Salon de Parfums.
David had previously served as fashion director of women’s wear, accessories, fine jewelry and children’s wear, overseeing buying teams responsible for more than two-thirds of Harrods.
A former banker, she joined Harrods as a buyer, having previously worked at Net-a-porter.com and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Her exit caps a frenetic six months of change at London’s big-name retailers: In February, after a yearlong search, Adil Mehboob-Khan, a beauty industry veteran, was named chief executive officer of Liberty. He’d previously held top posts at Wella and Procter & Gamble, and had served as co-ceo of Luxottica Group.
A few months later, Stacey Cartwright announced she was stepping down as deputy chairman of Harvey Nichols. Daniela Rinaldi and Manju Malhotra have since taken on the roles of co-chief operating officers, reporting to the store’s chairman and owner Dickson Poon.
While each store has had its own particular reasons for making the changes, all of them are coming under increased pressure to fortify their e-commerce businesses, raise the bar on exclusivity and customer service and appeal to a new generation of consumers.