Supergroup finance director quits after personal bankruptcy
Fashion retailer confirms Shaun Wills’ resignation in wake of insolvency is a personal matter with no connection to the company – but ethical questions linger
The chief financial officer of SuperGroup – parent company of the Superdry apparel brand – has been forced to leave his £600,000 per year job after it emerged that he is personally bankrupt. While no details were provided on the precise circumstances, the company confirmed that Shaun Wills had stepped down after telling the board near the end of February that he had been declared insolvent earlier that month.
Public records at London’s High Court showed that the personal bankruptcy case against Mr Wills – brought by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) with regards to a tax dispute – was heard on February 10. According the Financial Times, while wills has signalled plans to appeal the bankruptcy ruling, he is unlikely to return to the company. In a statement, the company told the London Stock Exchange: “This is a personal matter, on which SuperGroup will not comment further, and is wholly unrelated to the financial position of the company. Trading remains in line with previous guidance.”
Legally, though, the laws are strict on bankruptcy among business leaders – indeed, any individual who is declared bankrupt is banned from serving as a company director. From an ethical viewpoint, SuperGroup could not be seen to have a major executive, with a remit over accounts, who has run into severe, private financial problems.
A qualified management accountant, Wills – whose basic annual salary was £330,000, plus a £225,000 bonus – joined SuperGroup in 2012 in the ironic circumstances that its previous finance boss was forced to quit following an “arithmetic error”: a glitch that had triggered a profit warning.
Wills was previously chief operating officer of British homeware brand Habitat, and has more than 22 years of experience in the financial side of retail. While it is rare for such a high-profile departure for the stated reasons to come to light, there are some other, quite extreme examples of senior executives holding roles that are completely at odds with their own circumstances.
Texan financier Allen Stanford founded the Stanford 20/20 cricket tournament in the West Indies in 2006 to revive the sport’s popularity in the region. Two years later, the competition drew a global television audience of 300 million and led to big-money games between England and the West Indies. However, in early 2009 Stanford’s career as a sports executive began to crumble, as reports surfaced of an FBI investigation into his past career as a financier.
He was subsequently found guilty of fraud and running a Ponzi scheme worth up to £7bn – and is currently serving a 110-year sentence.
For more thoughts on the relationship between business ethics and success, read CMI’s recent report The MoralDNA of Performance.