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River Island chief executive Will Kernan to exit

By Huw Hughes

Nov 18, 2022

Management

Image: River Island

The CEO of high street fashion retailer River Island is leaving the business after three years.

Will Kernan is stepping down “to pursue personal projects”, Retail Week reports, citing sources close to the company.

Kernan joined River Island as chief executive in September 2019, taking over from previous boss Ben Lewis, who led the company for nine years and is the nephew of founder Bernard Lewis.

Prior to joining River Island, Kernan was the chief executive of fashion and lifestyle brand the White Company and also served as group CEO of online sports retailer and bike specialist Wiggle.

He also spent 13 years working at high street retailer New Look, most recently serving as chief operating officer.

Joining River Island just months before the beginning of the pandemic, Kernan faced a difficult tenure tainted by lockdown-linked store closures and a consequent hit to sales and profit.

In August 2020, the company announced plans to cut up to 350 management jobs.

Pandemic recovery

But the retailer has also announced a number of new plans and initiatives since the economy has opened back up.

In September, Kernan announced plans for the retailer to expand its presence in the US and open its first store across the pond after experiencing a bounce back following the end of the pandemic.

Speaking to This is Money, he said the retailer’s online demand had “soared” across various US states, with sales in the region now several times higher than pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

“We see it as a major growth opportunity,” Kernan said at the time. “Even though the brand is not well known in certain parts of the US, what’s interesting is that the product is resonating strongly.”

Its US expansion will also see the retailer sell through department store chain Nordstrom and ink a number of celebrity endorsements.

A successor to Kernan has not been announced.

River Island