Observing Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley before the press is like watching a man plummeting to earth without a parachute – you know it’s going to turn into a disaster any second.
If ever there was someone in need of a permanent PR minder, it would be the portly sportswear boss, whose troubled company has been under flak from MPs, journalists, unions and investors for the “Victorian” work conditions at its warehouse, where until recently staff were not paid the minimum wage.
Ashley, who sits at the top of his self-acquired empire and retains a majority shareholder position, has implemented measures to resolve the problems. But when he gives interviews meant to show that his company is sorry and learning from its mistakes, Ashley always seems to a make mockery out of his personal contrition.
The latest PR car crash occurred this Tuesday, when Ashley appeared on BBC Breakfast to try and smooth over his previous pile-ups.
Soon after describing himself as a “PR nightmare”, Ashley wandered away from apologising for the deplorable treatment of his workers and began talking about his private helicopter.
Ashley told BBC Breakfast: “I do fly to work by helicopter, it’s a reality. So when people say ‘Oh be real’, that’s how I travel.
“I don’t get paid a salary, but I do like to go by plane and I do like to go by private plane because it saves a lot of time and it’s very efficient. So at Sports Direct I’ll have a plane come in.”
The slipup followed another Ashley attempt to make the nation warm to him at Sports Direct’s annual general meeting (AGM), two weeks previous.
After publicly losing his temper during the meeting, Ashley invited the country’s press on a tour of the Sports Direct factory. In a PR stunt gone horribly wrong, Ashley subjected himself to the same search procedures his staff go through as they enter work.
At that point, just minutes after apologising for not paying people the minimum wage, Ashley pulled a massive wad of £50 notes from his pocket.
“Yes, I’ve been to the casino,” Ashley told the gathering of cameramen, photographers and reporters. “Now, don’t please write that.”
Mike Ashley must have a PR team and I expect they have implored him to stay away from cameras, in order to let the company’s new measures to improve working practises and corporate governance speak for themselves.
As a lord at the top of his fiefdom, it remains to be seen whether Ashley is capable of doing so.