Comment: Sir Philip Green’s popularity fails to match his performance

Terry Murden
Terry Murden
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IT IS not a good time to be in retail, unless you are Sir Philip Green. The Monaco-based tycoon seems to have the Midas touch and shows few signs of letting the high street gloom spread to his Arcadia empire.

Green is talking about expansion and now has £500 million from the sale of a 25 per cent stake in the business to help him do just that. He will target overseas cities to turn the group, best known for TopShop and Bhs, into a global player. It is notable that Green has opened up shop in places less exposed to the economic downturn such as Sao Paulo in Brazil and Vancouver in Canada which have reported strong sales performances.

His main focus, however, is the British high street which employs the majority of his group’s 43,000 staff, making it one of the country’s biggest private employers.

He said earlier this year that it was no use moaning about the economic slump and that businesses just had to raise their game and get on with it. The billionaire, who famously tried twice to buy Marks & Spencer, called it right in 2008 when he predicted the failure of some leading retailers, and he was a leading campaigner to scrap quarterly rents to ease cash flow.

But despite remaining at the top of the retail trade for more than 30 years, he is not universally admired. In one biography he emerged as ruthless and single-minded in his dealings with competitors, suppliers and the financial community.

His refusal to toe the line or court popularity in the City was his undoing in the years following his £47m acquisition of Scottish value chain What Everyone Wants from Vera and Gerald Weisfeld. He folded it into his Amber Day company, but anti-Green forces eventually forced him out and it was said that this stoked the fires of revenge against the establishment and his determination to rebuild.

He became an associate of Sir Tom Hunter, helping him sell Sports Division, and of the now-discredited Peter Cummings, who wrote the cheques at Bank of Scotland that financed many of their deals.

Green has been applauded for rescuing and growing companies, including Bhs, and for engineering a vital turnaround at M&S. But despite being bracketed with Sir Richard Branson and George Davies (of Next fame), he has not created a single brand. That said, he is a survivor and the high street would be poorer without him.

Diversity powering the energy sector

SCOTLAND’S renewables industry remains controversial, its value to the overall energy sector disputable, but what cannot be denied is that it employs a lot of people and now accounts for annual investment of £1 billion for the first time.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, rolled out some big numbers at last night’s green energy awards event attended by a big audience which itself confirmed the industry’s importance.

With the Green Investment Bank now up and running and governments in Westminster and Holyrood pushing the clean energy agenda there should be no excuses for this industry failing. The GIB is an important piece in the jigsaw, plugging the gap in financing projects that other banks are unable to provide.

A hint of a challenge to the wind and wave lobby is coming from the dash for gas and the tax breaks announced in the Autumn Statement for shale gas exploration. But diversity of energy sources is a good thing and should be encouraged.