Dave Forsey, chief executive, 49
A company veteran of three decades, Page Design Web he joined Mike Ashley in 1984, two years after the business was founded, and has been listed as managing director or chief executive since 2001. He is, therefore, portrayed as being Ashley’s right-hand man. The company’s annual report reads: “In conjunction with the executive deputy chairman [Ashley], he agrees strategy, appropriate objectives and policies for each of the businesses. Dave has overall responsibility for the daily management of the group.”
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There are other views, however, with one City source referring to Forsey as Sports Direct’s chief admin officer. Another, who has worked with Ashley and Forsey, said Sports Direct’s chief executive, like almost everybody else in the company, does what Ashley tells him.
Karen Byers, head of retail, 47
Byers is unique in that she is the only person who is said to stand up to Ashley. Those who have seen the pair work say she is close to him and that he respects her candour and abilities. A devotee of management guru Jack Welch, Byers is another long-serving member of Ashley’s closest circle having previously worked at River Island. Along with Forsey and the head of buying, Sean Nevitt, she qualified for a £5m bonus when the company listed in 2007, after then working for Sports Direct for 15 years. However, her toughness is double-edged, with a number of workers said to fear her. One former colleague described Byers as “a really hard-nosed person”.
John Ashley, IT director, 54
If there is another brain behind the success of Sports Direct – aside from the founder’s – it belongs to the other Ashley. John Ashley is Mike’s older brother and a computer science graduate who in effect built the company’s IT system from the ground up, since starting at the retailer in 1989. The result is far from flashy – but it works.
“Sports Direct has a very bespoke IT system which is a very strong part of SD,” says one insider. “They are very basic systems but they do exactly what they want them to do.” The unpretentious nature of his work is also mirrored by Ashley’s personal style. “He wears a lumberjack shirt that’s too big and baggy trousers that are too big that he’s forever pulling up,” says one former Sports Direct worker.
Sean Nevitt, head of buying, 45
Started at the company in 1987, initially in retail before moving into buying. The tattooed executive is described as being a “dealer” and a “market trader”. Known by his team of about 30 buyers as “the General”, the stocky redhead, who likes to run marathons, is well-respected within the company.
Niall Sutherland, head of e-commerce, 43
A former driver and warehouse manager who rose to run the online business. Renowned as a tough operator and credited with developing the way the company’s product is picked before teaching himself about e-commerce and helping Ashley’s brother John develop Sports Direct’s web operations from scratch.
Keith Bishop, PR man, 55
Not a Sports Direct employee in the strictest sense, but a Soho-based PR man who spins for Ashley on Newcastle United and for many of his brands. Self-styled as “the Bishop”, his website boasts that he has “a stunning range of skills” and “his address book has been compared with a particularly hefty volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica”. Keith Bishop Associates is 51% owned by Sports Direct.
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