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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
M&S suitor is retail king
Philip Green
Philip Green has built his reputation on shaking up the UK retail business.

In that respect at least, his decision to look into bidding for the venerable - if now somewhat beleaguered - Marks and Spencer comes as little surprise.

Not, though, that the move was expected either by investors or commentators, as the near-20% jump in M&S shares demonstrates.

If the bid succeeds, it could be the biggest coup in Mr Green's career - albeit at the second time of asking.

In 1999 he appointed financial advisers to look into a possible bid, but decided not to go ahead.

It would also mark a return to swashbuckling form, after the 52-year-old entrepreneur's attempt to buy supermarket group Safeway pulled at the final hurdle in October last year.

In contrast, a bold move on M&S would recall earlier successes, such as the turnaround of retail chain Bhs after it was bought early in 2000.

Bhs's 160 shops are now worth five times the 200m he paid for them back then, and - together with his other clothing businesses - make Mr Green the UK's biggest seller of womenswear.

Going private

In some ways, Philip Green - worth 3.6bn at some estimates - appears the archetype of the self-made man.

Leaving school, admittedly a Berkshire fee-paying one, at 15, he went straight into the rag trade, starting out by selling jeans and wholesaling shoes.

By the late 1980s, he was running a public company called Amber Day.

But he fell out with the City, and ever since has kept his companies firmly private.

What really made his name was the break-up of the Sears group in the late 1990s.

Several of its businesses went to Arcadia, the group which includes Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop and which he bought for 770m in 2002.

Pros and cons

But Mr Green's style is as much part of the attraction for headline-writers as the deals themselves.

Opinions are sharply divided.

Critics call him brash and even aggressive, citing his Monaco lifestyle and muttering about the three-day, 5m toga party in Cyprus he threw for 250 guests to celebrate his 50th birthday.

Mr Green, they point out, was dressed as Emperor Nero.

Supporters, though, say he backs his people to the hilt and brings an absolute commitment to the firms he runs.

Part of that is the preference for private ownership, which allows him to stay hands-on in every part of the businesses.

He is also notorious for cutting costs. He eschews advertising, for example, seeing his capacious storefronts as the best billboard he could find.

That has contributed to the way his stores make money. Arcadia turned in a 228m profit the year after it was taken over.

And Bhs profits allowed 214m to go back to shareholders in 2003 - most of which came straight back to Mr Green.


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