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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 12:51 GMT
The brilliant deal-doer behind Bhs
Jeff Randall

If Philip Green didn't exist, journalists would like to make him up. The entrepreneur who has turned Bhs from High Street duffer into retail star in just 20 months is every reporter's idea of a good story.

Not only is he unconventional, outspoken (often abrasive) and ridiculously wealthy, but he doesn't employ a PR man to moderate his message.


He has accumulated enough to put him in that rarest of clubs: those who are not only worth a billion pounds, but created it themselves

He has no time for the mumbo-jumbo that masquerades as corporate communications at many big companies.

Not only did Green not go to business school, he didn't even take A levels. Having left formal education aged 15, he has built Britain's biggest privately-owned retail group and accumulated enough debt-free assets to put him in that rarest of clubs: those who are not only worth a billion pounds, but created it themselves.

He doesn't go out of his way to make friends, and in a business as bitchy as retail has collected more than his fair share of adversaries.

Hands-on

But even those who would prefer not to see him succeed are forced to admit that he's a brilliant deal-doer who has a rare talent for understanding what mass-market customers want.

His turnaround at Bhs is a classic case-study in the merits of private ownership. He regards all 160 stores as his own (they are) and is obsessive about every one.


Green's ethos is: product, product, product. Bhs doesn't advertise, preferring instead to promote its goods in its own store windows

He is hands-on at all stages of the retail process: from buying fabric in Europe, through manufacturing of garments in the Far East, to display of goods in a store in Swansea.

While many of Britain's High Street groups have built their success on clever marketing, Green's ethos is: product, product, product. Bhs doesn't advertise, preferring instead to promote its goods in its own store windows.

"We've got some of the best sites in the country, with millions of people walking past our shop fronts, what could be better than that?" he told the BBC.

Shoe seller

Through his manic focus on detail, Green has succeeded in cutting out much of the waste he discovered at Bhs after he had bought the business from Storehouse for 220m in early 2000.

Right down to the purchasing of plastic bags and coat hangers, Green likes to make sure he gets the biggest bang for his buck.


He could continue to run the business as a private operation, paying himself handsome dividends; he could float it on the stock market; or he could sell to a rival retail group

As a result, the company's profits have risen from 12m to 92m in two years, yet he remains confident there's more to go. "We still do not achieve enough sales per square foot of retail space, there's more to shoot for," he said.

Not yet 50, Green remains as driven today as when he started out selling shoes 35 years ago. His business hero is the late Sir Charles Clore who built the Sears retail empire from next to nothing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Instant problem

With Bhs now worth somewhere between 1bn and 1.4bn, Green has plenty of options. He could continue to run the business as a private operation, paying himself handsome dividends; he could float it on the stock market; or he could sell to a rival retail group.

If he chooses the latter, he creates an instant problem because he's congenitally unsuited to retirement.

He's hyper-active and business is his life. Apart from the occasional game of tennis and holidays with his family, work dominates all he does.

He once said to me: "You know how you feel about golf, well that's how I feel about retailing."

See also:

17 Jan 02 | Business
Bhs to treble profits
16 Jan 02 | Business
Shops cheer bumper Christmas
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