January 2, 2014 / 7:13 AM / in 5 years

Debenhams finance chief quits days after profit warning

People rush past Debenhams department store on Oxford Street, in central London, January 10th 2011. REUTERS/Ki Price

LONDON (Reuters) - Debenhams (DEB.L) said on Thursday its Finance Director Simon Herrick had quit, two days after the British retailer issued a sharp profit warning due to poor Christmas trading.

Herrick, who had held the role for two years, was already under fire after he asked suppliers for a discount and a one-off contribution in the days running up to the key festive period, according to local media reports.

The company said a search to find a replacement was underway.

Whoever takes the job will be tasked with rebuilding confidence among investors after the group issued its second profit warning in less than a year. Its shares are down almost 40 percent in the last 12 months.

In the downgrade delivered on Tuesday, it cut its first-half profit forecast by almost 25 percent after the hoped-for surge in last-minute Christmas shopping failed to materialize.

Debenhams, Britain’s second-largest department store group, attributed the latest warning to fierce discounting on the high street, but the group was already struggling as it failed to keep up with rivals John Lewis, House of Fraser and Next (NXT.L).

John Lewis, the employee-owned biggest department store, reported like-for-like sales up 6.9 percent in the five weeks to December 28, while House of Fraser sales were up 7.3 percent in the last three weeks.

Neil Kennedy, director of finance, will assume the role of acting chief financial officer at Debenhams on an interim basis.

Reporting by Kate Holton, Editing by Neil Maidment

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