‘KING OF GOWNS & BLOUSES HAS BEEN UNFAIRLY PILLORIED!”
Going back to 2004, it was more or less accepted that Sir Philip Green was ‘King of Gowns & Blouses’, having taken control of Arcadia, having previously added BHS to his portfolio in 2000. He had also enjoyed some success working with the likes of Sir Tom Hunter, ‘ducking and diving’ in retail’s backyard.
2004 was the defining year. He had a pop at M&S at £4 a share, but was outwitted and out manoeuvred by CEO Lord Rose and chairman Lord Myners. Admittedly at the time the share price had also got a bit rich for many peoples’ blood. So Arcadia and BHS went from strength to strength, resulting in Sir Philip and Lady Tina purportedly squirrelling away £2 billion in Monaco perfectly legally. Many who pay their taxes won’t have enjoyed this tilt at HMRC. Nonetheless Sir Philip will have been well advised.
As the years went by it became clear that retail at the lower end of the market became very competitive with virtually non-existent inflation. If retail operators are not competitive and are no longer fashion leaders they will come down with a bump – so it transpired with Woolworth, which went down shedding 27000 jobs in 2008/9 from 800 units. That was horrible but in the circumstances unavoidable.
So when Sir Philip Green put BHS up for sale for £1 plus the pension liability of £571 million in 2014, the writing was on the wall. Sir Philip never has been particularly philanthropic when it comes to business, nor is he anything but as hard as nails professionally. The warning lights were on. Dominic Chappell and his cohorts did not have to buy the operation. They seemed quite short of experience.
I have not been party to the exchanges between bankers, owners and Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley. All I can surmise is that Ashley will have been unhappy with the pension liability. Also it appears that the banking covenant was fort by £60 million. There are no flies on Ashley. He clearly felt uncomfortable as the ‘white knight in shining armour!’ In comes the liquidator. Let’s see if it can be sold off and let’s hope that comments made by Malcolm Weir of PPF to the effect that the pension scheme is protected – to what degree is speculation. Sir Philip has received bad press for this. I am less than sure that it is warranted.