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Business News

Virgin Active hunts successors for top execs as co-founder’s run ends


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Virgin Active has kicked off a search for a new chief executive and finance director seven months after a hotly contested financial restructuring saved it from collapse.

Sky News has learnt that one of Britain’s biggest gym chains has appointed Spencer Stuart, the headhunter, to identify a replacement for Matthew Bucknall, the co-founder who returned to run the business in 2017.

Industry sources speculated on Monday that Mr Bucknall’s successor might be recruited from, and based in, South Africa, which is by far Virgin Active’s biggest operating market.

The company is also seeking a new finance chief to replace Jo Hartley, who is joining the bicycles retailer Halfords next year.

he Virgin Active logo is seen at their fitness club in central Singapore
The Virgin Active logo is seen at their fitness club in central Singapore, March 5, 2019. Picture taken March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Loriene Perera
Image: Virgin Active came close to collapse during the height of COVID-19 disruption

Mr Bucknall is one of the industry’s best-known executives, having jointly founded Virgin Active alongside Frank Reed 25 years ago almost to the day.

He is expected to remain on the company’s board as a non-executive director.

His return to Virgin Active in 2017 was expected to see him stay for about three years, and included the company’s best-ever year financially in 2019, but he chose to stay once the pandemic hit in order to steer it through the crisis.

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The chain came close to collapsing into administration earlier this year, with a court ruling in May eventually paving the way for the implementation of a so-called restructuring plan.

The proposal, which was strongly opposed by some Virgin Active landlords, involved Brait, Virgin Active’s majority shareholder, injecting additional capital into the business.

Some club-owners argued that they were left shouldering a disproportionate part of the financial pain from the deal, with a number of its sites since switching to other operators.

Virgin Active had seen its roughly 40 UK sites forced to close for much of 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Launched in Britain in 1999, the group now has well over 200 clubs in eight countries, including Australia, Botswana, Italy and South Africa.

At the end of 2019, it had more than one million members worldwide.

The pandemic’s impact has been severe, however, resulting in revenues halving in 2020 and a loss before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £42m.

Virgin Active also saw 100,000 members leave during the year.

The gym group, which remains part-owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, declined to comment on Monday.

 Sky News

© Sky News 2021

Written by: Rother Radio News

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