Wedding gift: Mike Ashley is to hand £5m to his future son-in-law
Mike Ashley is to hand £5million to his future son-in-law who works at Sports Direct.
The pay award to Michael Murray, who is engaged to Ashley’s eldest daughter Anna, emerged as the retailer revealed a bombshell £85.4million write-down on its investment in struggling department store chain Debenhams.
That pushed profits down to £77.5million in the year to April 29, compared to £272million the previous year. UK sales also dropped 2 per cent.
Murray, 28, was placed in charge of the retailer’s property team almost three years ago – much to the surprise of investors – despite a lack of experience in the sector. He has since been leading work to revamp stores as ‘head of elevation’.
The company previously said his pay would be decided via an independent review of ‘the value created by Michael for the group’. It now says this amounts to £5million and could be paid as soon as September 30.
But the arrangement was last night condemned by shareholder groups and campaigners, who said it raised serious questions about the company’s governance.
Michael Murray, who is engaged to Ashley’s eldest daughter Anna, works at Sports Direct
Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, said: ‘Throwing payments of £5million around would look pretty dodgy in any circumstances.
‘But to see the owner lavish them on a family member, at a company that’s already been through as many governance scandals as Sports Direct, it is appalling.
‘While Mike Ashley attempts to channel millions to his future son-in-law, the appalling pay and conditions of workers at the company’s warehouses remain fresh in the memory.’
Cliff Weight, director of Sharesoc, said: ‘This arrangement seems very smelly indeed. Sports Direct has a history of governance issues and to pay a figure like this to someone should really mean they are head and shoulders above everyone else.
‘Shareholders will be asking whether Murray really is the best man for the job.’
Former nightclub promoter Murray met Anna Ashley, 26, while on holiday in Majorca seven years ago. They now live together in a £10.7m house in Belgravia.
The pair dated for about three years before Murray started working with Mike Ashley, initially on redeveloping houses. In 2015 he took up his role leading Sports Direct’s property team.
Murray, who has described his future father-in-law as his mentor, has been suggested as one possible heir to Mike Ashley’s empire.
His pay award of £5million, which covers the period up to April 29, was decided by the non-executive directors, including chairman Keith Hellawell.
Sports Direct said: ‘The provision set aside for Michael Murray’s services is based upon an independent valuation of the benefit he brings to the company. Michael is leading our elevation strategy, which is performing beyond expectations.’
Last year Mike Ashley tried to hand his brother, John, an £11million pay deal, claiming he had been underpaid for years. The move was vetoed by shareholders.