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Liberty owner in Jack Wills buyout with chain’s founder

The owner of the Liberty department store in London has teamed up with the founder of Jack Wills as part of a multi-million-pound buyout of the preppy fashion chain.

The private equity firm Bluegem and Pete Williams have become the retailer’s new joint shareholders as part of a deal that sees the company’s long-standing investor Inflexion bow out after nine years, while Jack Wills’s chairman, Mervyn Davies, a former chief executive of Standard Chartered and Government minister, steps down.

Derek Lovelock, chairman of the retailer Mamas and Papas, will replace Lord Davies, while Williams will continue as chief executive after returning to the business last year to head a turnaround.

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Jack Wills hit a bad patch in the run-up to Christmas 2014 as it struggled to meet demand after problems with its distribution centre, which had been outsourced to a third party. However, the return of Williams, who founded Jack Wills in 1999 with his childhood friend Robert Shaw and an initial investment of just £40,000, has helped to bring about a revival in its fortunes.

A poor start to the year saw like-for-like sales fall 3.9 per cent, before they rose 3.9 per cent in the second half of the year. Turnover was up 4.1 per cent to £137.4m and pre-tax earnings hit £5.1m. However, a series of exceptional items associated with the distribution issues pushed the company to a £13.8m operating loss.

Williams said: “The new capital allows us to continue our international expansion and fast-paced revival.” Thirteen new stores will open in 2016.

(Source: Telegraph)