He will join the audit and remuneration committees and will become chairman of the audit committee in January 2018 when Mark Rolfe steps down from the Debenhams board.
With 30 years retail experience, Adams is a former finance director and deputy chief executive of House of Fraser and has also been chairman of Jessops and Moss Bros and a non-executive director at HMV.
He is currently chairman of Conviviality and a non-executive director at Halfords.
Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Debenhams, said: “We are delighted to welcome David Adams to Debenhams. He has had a long and distinguished career in the retail and consumer goods industries. His knowledge of the consumer and leisure sectors as well as his financial credentials will be a great addition to the board.”