Sergio Bucher, Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton'Studio by Preen' launch, London, UK - 04 Apr 2018

LONDON — In a widely anticipated move, Sergio Bucher has stepped down as chief executive officer of the embattled British department store chain Debenhams, and the search is on to find his successor.

Bucher’s exit comes a week after the debt-saddled Debenhams passed into the hands of its lenders after seeking bankruptcy protection. Under the new ownership, the company will now have access to 200 million pounds in fresh funds, while all commercial relationships will remain unaffected.

“Now that our new financing facilities are in place, it is time to move on, knowing the company is in good hands with a plan that will deliver a sustainable future,” said the soft-spoken Bucher, who thanked his colleagues for their efforts “during such a turbulent time.”

The store said it will allow “new leadership” to carry through the restructuring and turnaround of the business. Bucher’s successor is expected to be a turnaround wiz, rather than a fashion, beauty or retail expert.

In the meantime Terry Duddy, the current non-executive chairman, will assume the role of interim executive chairman.

Debenhams now has a clear path towards a viable and sustainable future, and we have Sergio and his team to thank for that. With a positive, professional approach, he has acted at all times in the company’s best interests, and we wish him all the best for the future,” Duddy said Thursday.

The company added that with the new funding, investor group, and business plan, it will deliver “a recovery in profitability, and deleverage its balance sheet.”

Bucher had, quite possibly, one of the worst jobs in British retail, although it was well-paid. Described as a “visionary” by his former Amazon colleagues, he accepted the job at Debenhams knowing there was trouble ahead. No one could have anticipated just how much trouble lay in store.

After joining, he expected to turn the stores around, modernize them and make them profitable, but in the end it was perhaps too little too late to save Debenhams, which had been in decline for over a decade.

Earlier this year he was kicked off the board by Mike Ashley, and other big investors, as he struggled to find emergency funds to keep the acquisitive Ashley at bay, and to keep the company from collapsing.

Bucher served as vice president of Amazon Fashion Europe, before being named Debenhams ceo in 2016. He succeeded Michael Sharp, who resigned after a raft of disappointing results, profit warnings and increasing shareholder pressure.

At Amazon, Bucher built up the fashion and accessories business, bringing in high-end designers to work on special collaborations and presiding over the opening of the online giant’s biggest fashion photography studio, spanning 46,000 square feet in London’s Hoxton neighborhood.

Prior to joining Amazon, he had served as general manager, retail and e-commerce worldwide, at Puma, and before that he held retail roles at Nike and Inditex, where he led the start-up of the lingerie retail brand Oysho.

His job was to whip Debenhams’ 253 stores across 27 countries into shape, and make the troubled retailer, whose stores had become dreary, dull and full of generic clothing concessions, relevant once again.

When he took up the job, Bucher’s basic salary was 700,000 pounds, plus bonus opportunities and a housing allowance of 5,000 pounds a month, after tax. After forfeiting an award of restricted stock in an Amazon stock plan, he was compensated with a cash payment from Debenhams of 445,184 pounds.

Although Bucher had great ambitions for Debenhams, including boosting the beauty offer with myriad services, upping the fashion quotient and spiffing up the shop floors, his plans were completely overshadowed by evaporating profits and a long-standing debt pile became impossible to shift given the state of the U.K. high street, business taxes and rising rents.

Then there was the billionaire Sports Direct tycoon Ashley, an activist shareholder who would later demand to take control of the store and supply it with 40 million pounds in emergency funding.

Known as the Grim Reaper of the U.K. high street because of his penchant for swooping in on distressed companies, Ashley had already bought the troubled House of Fraser department store chain last summer. There was much speculation that he would try to do the same with Debenhams, and then combine the two retailers, although no one could quite figure out the logic behind that strategy.

In January, Ashley and Micky Jagtiani of the Dubai-based Landmark Group, who held 37 percent of Debenhams shares, voted against the reelection of chairman Sir Ian Cheshire and of Bucher to the board. Cheshire walked immediately but Bucher remained in a strange state of limbo, determined to see the Debenhams drama through to the end.

Ashley lost his battle for Debenhams last week, and the bankruptcy protection and new ownership meant that his stake — as well as those belonging to the other former Debenhams shareholders — was wiped out.

Bucher will certainly need a long rest before he takes up his next job.

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