DRAGONS’ DEN star Touker Suleyman has revealed he respects Mike Ashley, who recently acquired the much-loved British department store chain, House of Fraser, in a £90million deal that has raised questions about the brand’s future.
Mr Ashley, whose Sports Direct operations have been fraught with controversy, owns a diverse retail portfolio, which spans from discount stores to luxury, high-end fashion.
The English billionaire’s recent buyout of House of Fraser has thrown the fate of its 59 stores and 17,500 employees into doubt.
Touker Suleyman, fashion/retail giant and well known TV personality, spoke on yesterday’s Newsnight programme to defend Mr Ashley.
The retail magnate and Dragons’ Den stalwart offered that Mr Ashley was an admirable figure, due to the gumption of his entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen.
He said: “This was done very quickly and, I must say, as an entrepreneur, I respect the fact that somebody’s come out of the woodwork so quickly [and] put his money where his mouth is.”
Asked by presenter Kirsty Wark if he was surprised by Mike Ashley’s bid, Mr Suleyman said: “No, I think, after the Chinese didn’t come up with the money there weren’t many players that would take on House of Fraser.”
The fashion and retail entrepreneur was quick to assert he was no acquaintance of Mr Ashley’s.
He said: “And, by the way, I have never met Mike, I don’t know Mike, so it’s my opinion.
“I think he’d had his eye on House of Fraser for a while and I don’t believe he had any idea that he would be buying it three weeks ago.”
Mr Suleyman revealed he thought the Mr Ashley takeover of House of Fraser would mean jobs would be salvaged.
The serial investor added: “And he is going to save more jobs, I believe, than was under the Chinese plan.”
He added: “I believe the Chinese were going to put in about 70million – so, for Mike, I believe 90million is to get him a seat at the table.
“He will need another 70million to make the plan work.”
Mr Suleyman revealed he did believe House of Fraser had a future.
He said: “The reason I believe that is because it is a very personalised group of department stores.”
He divulged he had been in the Birmingham House of Fraser branch about three weeks ago and had toured its 500,000 square feet of store.
He said: “I was speaking to the lady in charge and there are some great people on the ground – passionate about the store.
“The important thing is, if I had bought the business I would visit every store, see the people on the ground and see the value there.”
He added: “The biggest assets are the people on the ground.”
The entrepreneur and investor, who has been on two series of Dragons’ Den, admitted he didn’t think it would be easy for Mr Ashley to instil a new culture in the department store chain.
He said: “I don’t think you are going to change the House of Fraser culture that quickly.
“I don’t think Mike Ashley is going to wave a magic wand and say, ‘Right, these are my conditions.’
“I think they are set-in – within House of Fraser.”