Hut Group feels the heat over promised board shake-up

Hut Group feels the heat over board shake-up: Online retail company still to hire promised new independent director

The Hut Group is under pressure to beef up its board after listing its shares on the stock market.

In documents published a month ago, the online retail company promised to hire a new independent director as it touted itself to investors ahead of a £5.4billion blockbuster float.

But it has yet to appoint a candidate, fuelling unease about oversight of the board where founder Matt Moulding is surrounded by allies and advisers.

Hut Group founder Matt Moulding (pictured with his wife Jodie) is chief executive and chairman, a position banned by corporate governance codes

While concerns have been raised by governance experts, who worry that poor decision-making could go unchallenged and unchecked, the shares have performed strongly.

They shot up from 500p to more than 600p on the first day, making Moulding a billionaire on paper. The shares are now 598p, valuing it at £5.8billion. 

The Hut, which owns online shopping sites such as Look Fantastic, brands such as make-up line Illamasqua and nutrition range My Protein, insists it will get someone on the board within a year, but declined to give a more specific time horizon.

Peter Parry, of the UK Shareholders’ Association, said: ‘This seems to just be par for the course for this company, which has chosen to disregard corporate governance guidelines.’

On the board, there are two ‘independent’ directors – both with links to the firm. Zillah Byng-Thorne advised it for four years before joining in 2018, and Dominic Murphy helped to broker investment by KKR in 2014.

Other concerns relate to Moulding, 48, who is chief executive and chairman, a position banned by corporate governance codes as it reduces independent oversight. 

He has a ‘golden share’, giving him a significant influence over big decisions and is The Hut’s landlord.

Susannah Streeter, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘Open the doors of The Hut and delve into its governance structure and some alarm bells start ringing.’

The Hut said: ‘The board is composed of two executives and four non-executives. Management has also committed to adding a fifth non-executive within the first 12 months following the IPO, an approach that received full support from the LSE and investors ahead of IPO.’