Don McCarthy, Former House of Fraser Chairman, Dies at 63

Don McCarthy, the retail entrepreneur and philanthropist who sold the British department store chain House of Fraser to its current Chinese owners, has died at age 63.

The cause of death was cancer. McCarthy is survived by his two children. His wife, Diana, predeceased him from cancer, as well, 11 years ago.

McCarthy was a self-made multimillionaire who left school at 15 and broke into the retail business working weekends at a shoe shop in South London. He built a career out of buying and selling footwear and retail businesses, and eventually became executive chairman of House of Fraser in 2006. He spent eight years on the job and held nearly 20 percent of the company’s shares.

After entering into advanced talks to sell House of Fraser to Galeries Lafayette, and mulling an initial public offering, McCarthy and his fellow owners finally sold House of Fraser to Yuan Yafei’s Sanpower, which acquired a majority stake in the department store retailer through its subsidiary Nanjing Cenbest.

McCarthy had been optimistic about the deal, saying at the time that it would allow the management team to continue to grow and invest in the business in the U.K. and Ireland, expand into international markets — especially China — and develop its multichannel proposition and premium fashion offering.

It was not to be: House of Fraser fell victim to the tough trading conditions on the British high street, poor management and a lack of investment by Yafei. This year, the retailer sought insolvency protection and set out a restructuring plan that will see it close more than half of its 59 stores in the next months.

Sanpower has also agreed to sell the majority of its stake in HoF to fellow Chinese company C.Banner.

“We are all deeply saddened here at House of Fraser to learn of Don’s passing. He is remembered regularly and fondly by those who knew him, and he made an incredible impression on both HoF and the wider retail industry,” the retailer said in a statement Sunday.

The store added that McCarthy was “a passionate believer in giving back to the industry that had given him so much,” and pointed out that he served as a patron and ambassador of the Retail Trust, a charity that supports retail industry workers.

“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,” the statement said.

In 1975, at the age of 20, McCarthy joined footwear brand Kurt Geiger and eventually became part of a team that developed Geiger’s lower-priced shoe brand, Carvela. In 1991, he founded and became CEO of The Shoe Studio Group, a multibrand concession footwear retailer.

In 1996, The Shoe Studio Group was acquired by Nine West Inc., and five years later, McCarthy led a management buyout from Nine West. At the end of 2006, he headed a consortium of investors that bought HoF and became its executive chairman.

From 2007 until 2012, McCarthy also served as chairman and part-owner of Aurum, the British watch and jewelry retailer, which was acquired by Apollo Global Management in December 2012.

He was the founding patron of the British School of Fashion in New York, part of Glasgow Caledonian University, which opened in 2013. McCarthy and his family also donated 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million) to Royal Marsden cancer hospital in London, which had cared for his wife before her death.

He was given a CBE, or Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, honor for services to business and philanthropy in the queen’s New Year’s Honors in 2016.

This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.

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