Debenhams taps Alvarez & Marsal's Stefaan Vansteenkiste as CEO

15 August 2019 3 min. read

Troubled UK retailer Debenhams has installed turnaround expert Stefaan Vansteenkiste as its Chief Executive Officer, as it approaches a make-or-break Christmas trading period in late 2019. Vansteenkiste is a Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal, and has undertaken similar roles previously at retailers looking to shore up their future following periods of financial distress.

Founded in the 18th century as a single store in London, Debenhams grew to 178 locations across the UK, Ireland and Denmark before it hit troubled waters in 2018. The British retail stalwart had traditionally operated under a department store format in the UK and Ireland with franchise stores in other countries. As the retail sector in the UK in particular continued to endure a torrid period, however, this saw the shopping institution subjected to a spectacular fall from grace.

The retailer initially engaged auditing firm KPMG to help turn the store chain around, and rescue falling fortunes. The move came just weeks after the administration and sale of House of Fraser. KPMG was unable to prevent Debenhams’ continued slide, and by early 2019 the store had suffered the same fate as its competitor. The group went into administration in April, wiping out equity investors – including the retail magnate Mike Ashley – who later threatened legal action to remove FTI Consulting from its role as Debenhams’ administrator.

Debenhams taps Alvarez's Stefaan Vansteenkiste as CEO

Now owned by lenders consortium Celine UK NewCo, the struggling department store group has been looking to turn its fortunes around. In April, this saw the appointment of Alvarez & Marsal Managing Director Stefaan Vansteenkiste as Chief Restructuring Officer. During his brief tenure, Celine has pumped £200 million in fresh funding into Debenhams "for the financial restructuring process and to fund the company's operating turnaround", with the closure of 50 stores and rent reductions for others rubberstamped by landlords and creditors in May.

Rewarding Vansteenkiste’s stewardship of the rapidly moving turnaround operation, the Alvarez & Marsal professional has now been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of Debenhams. Meanwhile, Terry Duddy – who has been fulfilling the role of Interim Executive Chair since Sergio Bucher quit as CEO in April – will step down from the Board in September. The exit of Duddy and appointment of Vansteenkiste to lead the company is thought to underline its shareholders' belief that the company‎ requires a turnaround expert over a retail figure, to navigate what will be a defining first Christmas trading period since its collapse.

Commenting on his appointment, Vansteenkiste stated, "The retail industry faces a challenging environment and everyone at Debenhams acknowledges that. But we have a clear plan.”

Vansteenkiste will remain a European Partner at Alvarez & Marsal while fulfilling his duties at Debenhams. He has been with the consultancy since 2003, and during the 16 years since, the Managing Director has been involved in a range of turnaround situations. He has held executive roles in a range of firms to this end, most recently at Intertoys – the market-leading specialty toy retailer in the Netherlands and Belgium – as well as with Vion Food Group, Diam International and Bally Shoes.