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Sport Direct appoints interim CFO following investor unrest

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Prior to this, Pearson was group financial controller, having joined from EY as group financial accountant in 2007.

Chairman Keith Hellawell said: “After a thorough process and following soundings from leading institutions I am delighted that Matt has been appointed acting chief financial officer and join the board.”

Real Business previously reported that Mike Ashley, the founder and deputy executive chairman of the sport retailer, had been under fire from shareholders for failing to employ an FD.

While Hellawell said Pearson was “perfectly placed to take on the additional responsibilities on an interim basis”, he didn’t explain further as to why the position is still a temporary one, after an 18-month gap since there was last a finance director in place. The previous FD, Bob Mellors, left in 2013 due to health reasons.

Odey Asset Management, which holds a 5.2 per cent stake in Sports Direct, had earlier criticised the company’s 18-month delay in appointing a director. Shareholder Crispin Oden, who had been a backer of Ashley in previous years – calling him a “genius” – admitted to being “concerned” about the “ongoing delay”.

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He felt the absence “puts too much power into one person’s hands”, leaving Ashley with even more influence.

It wasn’t the first time shareholders had voiced disagreement with his agenda. In 2012, shareholders rejected Ashley’s prospective share incentive scheme due to tax reasons, and voted against his £73m bonus package.

The billionaire owner of Newcastle United football club also recently announced he was moving into the general merchandising sector by launching a discount store.

Under the name “Mega Value”, Ashley has begun trading in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. The branding will follow the style of Sports Direct and sportsdirectfitness in both colour and font. The website promises to “beat anyone’s price”.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley said that nervousness about governance was deterring institutional investors from buying shares in the business. In April they cut the estimate of the retailer’s valuation by a fifth.

They also outlined a list of worries, including the absence of an investor relations director and share sales by Ashley which contravened lock-up agreements. The founder’s decision to pursue complex stake-building and options deals in Debenhams and Tesco stock was also cited as a concern.

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