Editorial: Green eyes the storm ahead

How he manages to weather these adverse conditions will be interesting to watch.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In the wild and dark jungle that is British retailing, Philip Green is one of two top bananas. The other is Sir Terry Leahy, but Green outdoes the Tesco boss because, although Leahy is extremely well paid on £3 million per annum, Green is worth an estimated £4.85 billion. Just try saying that figure out loud. And he sports the biggest watch you've ever clapped eyes on (see the opening spread of this month's MT Interview). It's interesting how many photographic portraits of Green, including ours, catch him while he's licking his lips. We had a great idea to snap him on a lilo in the pool of his Monaco home under the cover headline 'Sexy Beast', but he was having none of it. Maybe next time ...

MT meets the legendary Green at a time when - after many years of brightly ker-chinging cash tills and stampede-like rates of footfall across the nation's retail acres - things are starting to get rough on the high street.

Simon Wolfson of Next has admitted that his company faces the most trying trading conditions since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. French Connection's figures have turned scary since Joe Public fell out of love with its crass logo. M&S, from which this summer I purchased for £20 a nicely made Panama hat not available at Primark, remains in turmoil.

How Green and his retailing empire - which includes Bhs, Burton and Miss Selfridge - manages to weather these adverse conditions will be interesting to watch.

He has been in the retail game for decades and has seen many troubles before. In a tough world, he is one of the toughest of operators and he is watching M&S's continuing agony with grim-faced pleasure. If things turn sour for him, of course, we won't be able to see any red ink that his accounts may bleed, because he is in the privileged position of not having to show them to anybody except his influential wife, Tina, and his own personal accountant.

A widespread retail downturn will do Manchester no good. I went back there recently after an absence of nearly 10 years and I could hardly believe what I saw. Gone are the grim municipal crescents of Hulme and the derelict warehouses of the city centre. In have come Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and the tallest residential tower block in the UK. You can now fly direct from Manchester airport to Chicago, Dubai and Karachi.

It has become a fizzing metropolis of great new buildings powered by a commercial vitality that has left Birmingham and Leeds way behind, and its arch-rival Liverpool is hardly out of the starting blocks. All it needs now is for Man Utd's new owner Malcolm Glazer to open his wallet as wide as Roman Abramovich opened his and the city will be really motoring.

Read the full story of its transformation in Andrew Saunders' feature.

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