Scotsman Obituaries: Robert Douglas Miller, chairman of iconic Jenners store

Robert Douglas Miller, Jenners chairman. Born: 11 February 1937 in Bridge of Allan. Died: 10 June 2021, aged 84

Douglas Miller treated Jenners staff like members of his family

Robert Douglas Miller, who has died aged 84, was the charismatic Chairman of Jenners which was until 2005 the oldest independent department store in the world, having first opened its Edinburgh doors in 1837.

A descendent of James Kennedy through his mother, Douglas Miller joined the family company in 1963.

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At the time the business was in the grip of a post-war malaise where boardroom lunches were lengthy affairs, the senior management would often disappear to the Highlands for the summer and customers could be counted on one hand.

Douglas Miller took over from his uncle as Managing Director, quickly realised that urgent change was required and set about the huge task of refinancing and reenergising the business.

The Jenners business was blessed with a significant property portfolio across Edinburgh which he re-structured to invest into the imposing Jenners building (rebuilt after a fire in 1894) on Princes Street to create a stylish modern retail environment with merchandise ranges that could hold their own against any store in Europe.

Intelligent and decisive, Douglas Miller realised early on that he needed expert help and employed a seasoned non-executive director, Simon Wyeth.

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Between them they developed a strong management team and a group of well-trained buyers to cover the wide spectrum of goods that were expected by the inhabitants of Edinburgh, simultaneously modernising the training for the sales team, building up the marketing department and overhauling the somewhat archaic financial systems.

Visits to the toy department and viewing the largest internal Christmas tree in Britain, followed by tea overlooking Princes Street Gardens, was a highlight for many families visiting Edinburgh.

He was fiercely protective of the staff and regarded them as an extension of his own family, insisting that everyone join the Final Salary Pension scheme, which was generously funded by the business.

Douglas Miller also played an active role within the Edinburgh business community. Whilst Chairman of the Royal Warrant Holders Association he hosted a visit to Jenners by The Queen which coincided with the 150th Anniversary of the Jenners business.

He was President of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, Treasurer to the Royal Company of Archers and a non-executive Director on a number of Investment Trusts in Edinburgh.

In 1991 Douglas Miller was stuck down by viral encephalitis and remained in a coma for eight weeks. Just when it looked like all was lost, he staged a remarkable recovery, although it was two years before he returned to work.

Douglas Miller was born on 11 February 1937 in Bridge of Allan, second child of Francis and Mary Douglas Miller. His early years were spent roaming the Ochil Hills behind the Wallace Monument and that kindled his enduring love of the countryside.

When Francis died in 1950 of wounds sustained in the Second World War the family moved to London.

From prep school at St Peter’s Court in Kent he passed into the “Scholar set” at Harrow, where he also proved a gifted sportsman, holding the 400m record for more than a quarter of a century. After Oxford, where he read economics, Douglas Miller was commissioned into the 9th Royal Lancers and subsequently served in the Scottish Horse as a Territorial Army officer for a number of years.

His determination to enjoy all aspects of life was evident in the huge range of interests and passions that he pursued, in particular a lifelong interest in fishing, shooting, farming, gardening and conservation.

After the sale of Jenners in 2005 Douglas Miller retired and turned to his love of field sports and observing an ever-increasing number of horses appearing at the stables of the family home in Midlothian.

The rivers Oykel and Shin in Sutherland and Forneth Estate in Perthshire became his focus for his farming and conservation interests, coupled with enormous generosity to the many friends who shared his pastimes.

Douglas Miller married Judy Smith in 1961. They enjoyed a long and happy marriage, transforming their rundown castle in the Pentland Hills into a wonderful family home for their four children.

He is survived by his wife, his three sons Andrew, Robbie and Edward, his daughter, Emma and numerous grandchildren.

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