LONDON — Analysts were unsurprised by Wednesday’s news that Nick Robertson, who founded online retailer Asos in 2000 and has served as its chief executive officer for the past 15 years, would step down from the role with immediate effect even as the company continues to recover from a tough 18 months.
Robertson is remaining at the company as a non-executive director. He is to be succeeded as ceo by Nick Beighton, who since October served as chief operating officer. Beighton joined Asos in 2009 as chief financial officer. Helen Ashton succeeds Beighton as cfo, effective this week.
Despite analysts’ expectations that Robertson was close to stepping aside, the online retailer’s shares fell sharply Wednesday. At the close of trading, Asos’ shares finished down 2.8 percent to 29 pounds, or $48.12 at current exchange, on the London Stock Exchange.
Asos is set to report its full-year 2015 results October 20. It reported a 21 percent rise in group revenue at actual exchange rates in the four months to June 30, to 396.7 million pounds, or $602.9 million, after what was a tough 2014.
In June 2014, Asos saw shares plummet 31.4 percent in a day after the retailer warned that its profit margin for the year to August 2014 would be lower than expected. The retailer had been hit by slowing international sales, with a higher proportion of U.K. and European sales, which are lower margin territories for the company.
The firm’s shares dipped further in September as Asos again warned on profits, after the retailer was hit by investments it had made in its international pricing structure, its logistics infrastructure and technology platform. Added to that, a fire at the retailer’s warehouse in Barnsley, England in June meant that the firm lost sales of between 25 million and 30 million pounds, or between $42 million and $50.4 million, during the three months to Aug. 31, 2014. The firm said at the time that it expects pre-tax profits for the current fiscal year to August 2015, to be “at a similar level to 2013-14.”
Given all the difficulties — and some personal issues — Robertson’s exit was somewhat expected. In a research note Wednesday, analyst Simon Bowler at Exane BNP Paribas described the move as “likely to have been planned for some time.” “[Robertson’s] decision to step back from ceo responsibilities reflects a desire to devote greater time to his personal life, and we believe has been known internally among senior management for some time,” the note read. The note also referred to British press reports that Robertson is going through divorce proceedings. Earlier this year, Robertson sold 744,600 shares in the firm worth 20.2 million pounds, or $33.3 million. He retains an 8.39 percent stake in the business.
Bowler’s note described the transition to Beighton’s leadership as having “likely been effective internally for some time,” since Beighton took up the chief operating officer role last year. “Asos’ recovering momentum during that period offers encouraging signs that the business can still drive forward under this new leadership structure,” Bowler’s note read, adding that the bank expects Robertson to “remain an active non-exec director,” given his shareholding.
In a separate research note, analyst Tom Gadsby at Liberum Capital wrote, “We do not anticipate any sudden change in direction,” in terms of the business, noting that Robertson’s “decision to retire has been on the cards for a while.” Liberum maintained a “hold” rating on Asos’ stock.