(Bloomberg) -- Lisa Wilkinson, former Wilko chair and granddaughter of the company’s founder, said she didn’t listen to expert advice until it was too late to save the British budget retail chain.
Speaking to British politicians during a hearing into the failings that led to the collapse of a chain that once employed 12,500 people, Wilkinson said she made a number of mistakes. Namely, she should have listened to restructuring experts at PwC earlier and hired Mark Jackson, the chief executive officer who was appointed to try to rescue the business, sooner.
Wilko had a high street presence since 1930 but filed for insolvency in August, with the closure of more than 400 stores and 12,000 jobs.
Read More: Wilko’s Fall Leaves a Gaping Hole in British Town Centers
The hearing found examples of “management failure” during the Covid pandemic when Wilko chose not to furlough staff and elected to pay landlords in full. Another misstep by management was choosing to invest in updating its warehouses, which proved costly.
Wilkinson, who cried at one point as she gave evidence, was asked why the founding family took millions of pounds of dividends out of the company, even when it was indebted. She said dividends were only paid when Wilko’s performance passed a certain threshold.
“The team members in Wilko did feel like one big family. I’m sure I’m no longer included in that family,” said Wilkinson, adding that she, and the founding Wilkinson family, “don’t have assets to fill a £50 million ($63 million) hole in the pension scheme.”
Wilkinson was a major shareholder in the company at the time of the collapse. She and Jackson appeared in front of Members of Parliament on the cross-party Business and Trade Committee.
Wilkinson was asked by MPs to apologize for the company’s failure. She said sorry and added that she will thank employees and customers until “my dying day.”
The failure was down to “weak leadership and the failure of Wilko to adapt to a changing market,” said Nadine Houghton, national officer at the trade union GMB, who also spoke during the hearing. Lisa Wilkinson “bears a significant amount of responsibility,” said Houghton, citing large dividends taken out of Wilko which should have been put back into the business.
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