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Littlewoods owner Very Group fuels IPO speculation as it names ex-Walmart exec Dirk Van den Berghe as chair

·2-min read
Michelle Keegan modelling for Very (Very Group)
Michelle Keegan modelling for Very (Very Group)

Very Group has fuelled speculation that it is preparing to join the stock market with the appointment of a former senior Walmart executive as its new chair.

Dirk Van den Berghe previously helped run Walmart’s businesses in Canada, China, India and Japan, and oversaw the retail giant’s global sourcing. Van den Berghe said it was “a privilege” to join the Very board as chair.

His appointment will fuel speculation that Very Group, which owns and Littlewoods, is gearing up for an IPO. Reports over summer suggested the company had sounded out banks to work on a potential listing.

In a statement, CEO Henry Birch said Van den Berghe was “the perfect person to lead our board and assist with strategic options that we are considering” but he downplayed stock market speculation when pressed on the point directly.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a precursor to a change in our capital structure or some kind of corporate activity, it’s something we’ve been looking to do for some time,” he told the Standard. “Our position remains the same: as a company that’s performing well, in a position of strength, we’ll continue to review options. No decision in terms of what we might do, may well be we remain exactly as we are.”

Any listing or sale would trigger a payday for the billionaire Barclay twins who own the business. A spokesperson for the Barclay family said Van den Berghe “has unrivalled leadership experience in the digital retail and payments industries, and his appointment represents a commitment to the long-term success of company.”

News of the appointment came alongside a Christmas trading update. Very, which makes annual turnover of £2.3 billion, saw sales rose 22% in the seven weeks to 24 December.

Very sells everything from clothing to electricals. The retailer was boosted by strong sales of games consoles ahead of Christmas and benefited from a “real resurgence of fashion” as people “buy into wanting to look good and feel good,” Birch said. Sales of beauty and “wellness” products also jumped.

Retailers are preparing for a squeeze on spending this year as inflation soars but Birch said Very was well positioned to beat the belt tightening.

“We allow our customers to spread the cost of what they buy, in that we offer credit,” he said. “In the last financial crisis of 2008/2009, we actually performed really well. We think that our model will shine even more with customers in the course of 2022.”

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