Ex-Debenhams boss says he’s not to blame for the chain’s demise after his tenure left it loaded with more than £1bn of debt
- Rob Templeman, 63, was CEO of Debenhams for eight years until 2011.
- He denied the sale-and-lease-back of 23 stores contributed to the firm’s demise
- It owed £700 million to creditors when it went into administration in April
- Its 124 stores are now closing with the loss of 12,000 jobs
Rob Templeman, 63, was CEO of Debenhams for eight years
A former chief executive of Debenhams whose tenure left the ailing department store chain loaded with more than £1 billion of debt has denied he was responsible for the chain’s demise.
Rob Templeman led a takeover of the 242-year-old store chain in 2003 by a private equity consortium of Merrill Lynch, CVC Capital and Texas Pacific, when its debts stood at £100 million.
The group, which funded its takeover with debt and paid themselves more than £1 billion in dividends, made decisions including selling the freeholds of 23 of Debenhams’ largest shops for £495 million, and leasing the sites back on what turned out to be onerous deals up to 35 years in length.
When they refloated Debenhams on the stock market in 2006, it had £1.2 billion in debt.
It owed £700 million to creditors when it went into administration in April. Experts say the chain was left hamstrung by the debt mountain and rental payments, and struggling for cash to compete with rivals.
Its 124 stores are closing with the loss of 12,000 jobs, leaving a gaping hole on the High Street, after administrators failed to find a buyer. JD Sports withdrew its interest on Monday following the collapse of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia – which has a large number of concessions in Debenhams stores.
Speaking outside his central London plush, gated mews home a stone’s throw from Debenhams’ flagship Oxford Street store, multi-millionaire Templeman (pictured) blamed the impact of internet competition and Covid lockdowns for the historic store chain’s demise.
Claiming it was ‘in a good healthy position’ when he left, he said: ‘I think the whole market’s changed. You’ve got 17 to 20 weeks of no sales and with Covid you’ve got online growing. That was ten years ago.
Debenhams’ 124 stores are closing with the loss of 12,000 jobs, leaving a gaping hole on the High Street, after administrators failed to find a buyer
‘I left there, what, ten, 11 years ago, so the company was bought 20 years ago and when I left it was making £300-odd million.’
Templeman, 63, chairman of breakdown service the RAC, was chief executive of Debenhams for eight years, stepping down in 2011. He denied the sale-and-leaseback of 23 stores contributed to the firm’s demise.
‘Let me give you the numbers.
‘There’s £22 million, or £21 million, of rent, going up by less than £200,000 a year, I think. So on a business making £300 million on a prime rental with shops on Oxford Street, places like that – that hasn’t made the business go bust.’
Asked whether he regretted decisions he made at Debenhams, he said: ‘Come on, that’s not a fair question ten years on. It’s a sad day for Debenhams, that’s all I can say.’
The ex-chief blamed Debenhams’ recent performance for its downfall, but would not comment on his successors’ performance, saying: ‘I’ve been gone for ten years, so I can’t comment on what other chief executives have done.’