Boots boss to leave after plans for £5bn sale shelved by Nottingham company's owners

CEO of Boots UK, Seb James pictured during interview at Boots Headquarters in Nottingham
-Credit: (Image: Nottingham Post)

The boss of Nottingham health and beauty giant Boots is quitting the top job after its owners shelved a plan to sell the business. CEO Sebastian James, who has led Thane Road-based Boots since 2018, is set to leave the company in November.

Mr James, who had previously run electrical retailer Dixons, has accepted a new role in the healthcare industry at ophthalmology chain Veonet, Sky News reports. An announcement about his departure is expected in the coming days, but it is not believed Boots' American owner Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) has lined up a replacement for him yet.

His exit will take place during the retailer's 175th anniversary year. The news comes shortly after WBA again decided against selling the major Nottingham employer, with the US firm's CEO Tim Wentworth recently telling investors that a review of Boots "showed that we have attractive options to unlock value in this business".

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Mr Wentworth continued: "While we believe there is significant interest in Boots at the right time, its growth, strategic strength and cash flow remain key contributors to the company. We are committed to continuing to invest in Boots UK and find innovative ways for this business to fulfill its potential."

This is the second time in two years WBA has ultimately decided against pursuing a sale or stock market flotation of Boots. The retailer runs a network of around 2,000 stores from its headquarters between Nottingham and Beeston, with around 8,000 of the retailer's 52,000 staff based on the site.

When Mr James joined Boots he outlined his vision to regenerate the company's physical stores, its online presence and to reclaim its status as the place to go for wellness, beauty and pharmacy products. He told Nottinghamshire Live in 2019 how he aimed to turn around the retailer's stores within three years and profit from improved beauty halls.

Mr James could reasonably argue a number of these goals have been achieved, despite Boots' brick-and-mortar presence shrinking during a set of store reductions the company said would help it concentrate its resources. While some shoppers have been disappointed by the closure of more than 300 stores on high streets across the UK, the business has had great success with its flagship travel and beauty stores - with its refurbished airport branches performing particularly well.

Inside Boots Victoria Centre
Boots in Victoria Centre, Nottingham city centre -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

Recent Companies Accounts filings showed the firm's revenue climbed from £7.7bn to £8.3bn in the last financial year, with this being boosted by strong retail sales derived from brands such as Soap & Glory and Liz Earle, as well as Fenty Beauty by singer Rihanna.

As well as seemingly clawing back control of the UK's beauty market, Boots has also moved towards making more online sales through its increasingly popular Boots App - in line with Mr James' aims when he took up the job. For his efforts, Mr James was paid a package worth £2.7 million last financial year, which was down from £3.8 million in 2022.

Boots' recent trading performance has been strong, with owner WBA this week saying like-for-like sales during the quarter to the end of May rose by 6 per cent and 5.8 per cent across its retail and pharmacy operations respectively. In contrast WBA itself revised its profit predictions and announced closures of US stores.