BHS and the Demonization debate

BHS

 

BHS, not unlike Boots, is a British icon of the High Street.  Its decline makes it open season for demonization of its current owners and more significantly for Sir Philip Green, who sold it for £1 a year ago

A year ago, Philip Green signalled a tough time ahead for BHS with his peppercorn sale of the retail stores, throwing in a modest sweetener towards its huge pension liabilities. The new owners were either a brilliantly visionary group of entrepreneurs, or a bunch of body snatchers. As BHS heads for administration, the second looks the more realistic.

Its new leader, Dominic Chappell, was described by The Mirror as an ex-racing car driver and former bankrupt. In a last desperate effort to rescue the company, Mr Chappell was reported to have moved £1.5 million from the company in an imaginative but ill-fated manoeuvre more suited to the racing track. He has since paid most of it back.

As the Mirror explained:

Representatives confirmed the news today [April 25th 2016] after talks with Sports Direct – owned by Newcastle United billionaire Mike Ashley – to sell some of its 164 stores collapsed at the weekend. A formal announcement is expected at around noon.

The collapse of BHS would be the biggest retail failure since Woolworths folded in 2008 with the loss of almost 30,000 jobs. It is understood any buyer would only step forward if it did not have to take on the £571m pension deficit.

The Financial Times

The Financial Times offered a rather half-hearted defence of Philip Green. Its article was headed The demonization of Green, arguing this was a result of the prerences of the tabloid press. Then it got down criticisms of the commercial judgement of the life style and financial practices of the tycoon which could be seen as something of a demonization of itself.

These included a charge of ‘Pensions dumping … as the entrepreneur was taking delivery of his third superyacht to his Monaco bolt hole’.

The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail, one of those tabloid media, did indeed give Philip Green a thumping, although the ‘demonization’ was as much it that newspaper’s style than its substance. Its headline ran Can the man who milked the millions from BHS really be allowed to keep his knighthood?

The Mail added to a chorus of demands that Sir Philip be banished to the naughty chair, be relieved of substantial amounts of Moola, and be stripped of his knighthood.

The main points were covered in more robust terms than was found in the Fnancial Times, although the Mail actually cited the FT as for one of its sources for ‘a staggering billion or so moved from BHS into the family coffers under the Green machine’.

The Guardian

The Guardian having done a right royal anti-royal piece on the Queen’s knees-up, last week kept the top on the vitriol bottle.  The article was pretty much like the Mail’s, with perhaps more distain for Green’s life style and the milking of BHS assets.

Mary Portas

Mary Portas was more dismissive. In a radio interview [Monday 25th April 2016] she talked of the lack of vision by BHS over the years, and its failure to grasp a future more like pound savers and the need for more visionary leaders. [Note for business students: can you see some tiny flaw in the reasoning of the person charged by the Government with reviving our High Street?].

To be fair, anyone can get a bit carried away in a radio interview.

In a piece for the Guardian, the Queen of the High Street explains under the headline how I would have saved BHS

If I had been at British Home Stores I would have looked at today’s market place and created a brand that is relevant for today’s shopper.

I would have gone totally after the value market, but made it functional and cool.

I would have started with where it was good – the lighting. Then I would have extended that to become a modern British lifestyle retailer at a great price.

Nice move, Mary

So that’s what Philip Green missed. Fixing the lighting. Mary avoided mentioning him by name. Probably best.  He has been known to sort out opposition in a not particularly functional or cool sort of way.

To be continued

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