general counsel bids 'sad farewell' as online retailer collapses

Laura Tyler to leave along with legal team as 400 jobs are axed at defunct UK furniture retailer
Smartphone with logo of British e-commerce company Group plc on screen in front of website. Focus on center-left of phone display. Unmodified photo.

T. Schneider; Shutterstock

The general counsel of failed online furniture retailer has bid a ‘sad farewell’ and thanked her legal team as it emerged the company was to axe 400 jobs after going into administration. 

And so, it’s a sad farewell to the I’ve known and loved for the past 2.5 years, and to so many brilliant colleagues,’ Laura Tyler wrote on LinkedIn yesterday

Tyler joined the company in 2020 as legal counsel from Bird & Bird, where she was an associate, and took over as GC in July from Lisa Gan Tomlins, who left the next month after eight years building the startup’s legal function as GC. 

Tyler thanked Gan Tomlins ‘for being there in the background when things got really tough’ and also the company’s legal team – paralegal Constance Armengaud, legal counsel Jenni Au, head of legal for commercial Claudia Rabbitts, senior legal counsel Christos Matthews, legal counsel Victoria Cormack and deputy company secretary Meirion Morgan

‘A group of more talented, dedicated, hardworking people you will struggle to find. Wherever you each land next, they will be so lucky to have you,’ she said. officially hit the buffers on Wednesday, when it announced it had called in PwC as administrators and sold its brand, domain names and intellectual property to UK retail company Next for £3.4m, after discussions with potential buyers failed to bear fruit. 

A team from Eversheds Sutherland advised Next on the deal. Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), meanwhile, is advising on the administration while Davis Polk is advising in a corporate capacity, according to Legal Business.

The company was founded in London in 2010 and had grown into one of the UK’s most promising startups, raising more than $130m in funding on the back of a business model that sold sleek furniture online at comparatively low prices by linking consumers directly with designers. 

It performed strongly during the pandemic and in June last year went public at a valuation of around £775m. But since then the share price has been in perpetual decline, as supply chain disruptions, rising costs and the chilling effect of the UK’s worsening economy on consumer appetites saw it report mounting losses.  

PwC said that the deal with Next did not include staff, leading to 320 people being made redundant and the letting go of another 80 who had resigned and were working their notice period.

"The company is a casualty of the headwinds being faced by all retailers, but more heavily by those selling big-ticket products,” said Zelf Hussain, joint administrator and partner, PwC.“It is with real regret that redundancies will need to be made. We will continue to support those affected at this difficult time, including assisting the HR team’s efforts to secure staff new roles. A small number of employees have been retained to support the orderly closure of the business.”

Tyler said she would remain at for a short time ‘to help wind things down’ before deciding her next steps. is arguably the most high profile British retailer to fall this year. But according to data from Thomson Reuters the number of company insolvencies in England and Wales hit 5,629 in the second quarter of 2022 – the highest in nearly 13 years – as rocketing energy prices took their toll on business. 

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