13 Aug 2010

Topshop tycoon takes on Whitehall

Business Editor

Topshop boss Sir Philip Green is to lead the government spending review. Business Correspondent Siobhan Kennedy asks if this the sort of advice Whitehall needs.

Sir Philip Green

They don’t come much sharper and ruthless than the chief executive of Arcadia, whose retailing group, including BHS, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, grew profits during the recession and didn’t have to shed a single job.

In fact, Sir Philip says numbers actually grew. Unlike some high profile bankers and City men so often appointed by government who are so anxious to do “the right thing” they actually end up achieving very little, Sir Philip is a roll-your-sleeves up, tell-it-like-it-is, call-a-spade-a-spade kind of guy.

He’s not afraid of putting the odd nose out of joint, remember his bold takeover approach for M&S in 2004 that left bankers and M&S execs seething? In a Whitehall context, it is probably exactly what is needed.

It speaks to Sir Philip’s grit and dogged determination that he was so peeved at being jilted at the altar for M&S that he got straight back on the horse and vowed to turn round his retail chain into a high street force to be reckoned with.

He’s pulled in Kate Moss, become a rare UK entrepreneur to succeed in America with the launch of Topshop in New York and last year, his retail empire turned a pre-tax profit of £213.6m, up 13 per cent from the previous year.

Whether or not he’ll be able to continue that upward trend in the face of austerity cuts to come and a hike in VAT is debatable but if anyone knows how to manage through tough times it’s him.

At Whitehall, he’ll have the added incentive of knowing that any recommendations he makes, if implemented,could help spur economic recovery, all of which would be good for Arcadia and its prospects.

Two things stick out as unfortunate. One, the questions over his tax status. The other is the amount of time he’s been given. As much as Sir Philip has a magic wand to wave, he’s got to do it in just over eight weeks. You wonder why David Cameron didn’t take up his offer, and bring in the Londoner sooner?

Who Knows Philip Green:
Rated one of the richest men in the country, Sir Philip is perhaps best known for his friendship with supermodel Kate Moss and for his failed attempts to buy the Marks & Spencer chain.

One of his earliest ventures saw him link up with billionaire philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter in 1995 to form a chain of sports retailers, which he sold three years later to JJB Sports for £550m.
Read more