Jul 23, 2018
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Ex-House of Fraser boss McCarthy dies after cancer fight

Jul 23, 2018

A retail veteran and philanthropist who was responsible for building a number of UK chains and for selling control of House of Fraser to its current Chinese owner has died after a battle with cancer at the age of 63.

Don McCarthy - Wikimedia

But while Don McCarthy is best known at present for his eight years spent as Executive Chairman of House of Fraser, he had a long career before that and was responsible for several key developments within UK retail.

A precocious talent, he built up a fortune from developing and selling retail chains, and while they looked unstoppable under his management, many of them stumbled after he left, highlighting the strength of his strategic thinking.

He joined Stead & Simpson (which owned the Ravel and Stylo chains) at the age of 15 and was made manager of one of its stores aged just 17.

He moved to upscale London retailer Kurt Geiger just a few years later and became assistant manager of the Bond Street Flagship. 

His big step into product development and multi-store management came not long after when he was tasked by Kurt Geiger's owner with creating a lower-priced brand for the company, which resulted in the Carvela label.

As well as being area manager for the company, he was responsible for the Kurt Geiger concessions in key department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, Fenwick, House of Fraser and Debenhams.

With the backing of the Spitz family that controlled Kurt Geiger, in the early 1990s he launched this own retailer Shoe Studio Group (SSG) that grew fast and was bought out by Nine West in 1997. However, he led a management buyout of the chain in 2001 and in the following years SSG also took over the Principles and Warehouse chains, forming the Rubicon group that had sales of over £0.5 billion.

He sold it in 2006 when his wife was ill with cancer but shortly after linked up with Baugur and West Coast Capital to buy House of Fraser, selling control of the chain in 2014 to Chinese group Sanpower. He had also been in talks with Galeries Lafayette about a sale to the French firm and had mulled an IPO but believed that the Chinese firm would give HoF the investment it needed.

A spokeswoman for the retailer said: “We are all deeply saddened to learn of Don’s passing. He is remembered regularly and fondly by those that knew him and made an incredible impression on both HoF and the wider retail industry.

“Don was a passionate believer in giving back to the industry that had given him so much being a patron and ambassador of the Retail Trust. Don was always passionate, driven and full of ideas for the benefit of HoF and the retail business. He kept a large circle of friends and contacts, regularly giving mentoring support to former colleagues of HoF and more widely.”

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