Green, Philip

views updated

Green, Philip


Retail executive

B orn Philip Nigel Ross Green, March 15, 1952, in the South London borough of Croydon, England; son of Simon (a property developer and electrical retailer) and Alma (a laundry-business owner) Green; married Christina (Tina) Palos, August, 1990; children: Chloe, Brandon.

Addresses: Home—London, England. Office—Top-shop, Colegrave House 70 Berners St., London, W1T 3NL, England.


W holesale footwear seller in London, late 1960s; worked for family’s electrical retail business; opened two designer-discount stores, Bond Street Bandit and 41 Conduit Street, c. 1979-80; bought and sold a chain of London denim stores, Jean Jeanie, 1985-86; chair and chief executive officer, Amber Day, c. 1986-88; bought and sold several other retail properties during the 1990s, including Owen Owen, Olympus Sports, Shoe Express, Sears Group; bought British Home Stores, 2000; bought Arcadia Group (includes Topshop, Topman, Wallis, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, and Outfit), 2002.


K nighted on June 17, 2006, Sir Philip Green serves as chief executive officer of Topshop, the British clothing retailer whose flagship outpost in the heart of London’s retail district is one of the busiest stores in the world. Topshop’s fashion-forward styles are affordably priced and have even become a favorite of celebrities, models, and fashion-industry elite, while Green has won kudos for rescuing the flagging clothier and turning it into a hip brand—a status exemplified by his joint venture with supermodel Kate Moss for her own clothing line at Topshop, which launched in 2007.

Despite his impressive financial acumen, Green is known as a maverick and has had a controversial relationship with the British press, which is fond of writing about his lavish lifestyle. In 2005, he made his first appearance on the Forbes “Rich List,” and the U.S. magazine estimated the net worth of this retail executive, who left school at age 16, at $5 billion (by June of 2006, he was worth around $7 billion). He credits his success to a work ethic he learned at an early age, telling a reporter for London’s Sunday Times, “I come from a very old school and have learnt most of the business myself. I’ve taught myself everything, from making garments to fitting out stores.”

Green was born into a Jewish family in 1952 and grew up in Croydon and North London. His mother, Alma, ran a chain of laundromats but took over her husband’s business when Simon Green—a property developer who became an electrical retailer—died unexpectedly of a heart attack in the early 1960s. By then Green was already installed at his boarding school for Jewish students in Oxfordshire, Carmel College, which he had entered at the age of eight. In his teens, he served as captain of Carmel’s rugby and cricket teams, but he fared poorly in the classroom and left at the age of 16.

Green went to work for his family’s business, but he also cut a deal with a friend of theirs who was a shoe importer, to purchase a wholesale lot of women’s boots. He then made enough money selling them to stores to finance a long jaunt through the United States and Asia. Returning to London, he continued working in retail, and in the late 1970s he bought the contents of a clothing store that was going out of business and then opened his own space in the posh Mayfair district of London. He became known for selling top-of-the-line designer clothing at a discounted price at both his Bond Street Bandit store and the other, named for its address at 41 Conduit Street. In 1981, he entered into a partnership with British film star Joan Collins that attempted to capitalize on the designer-jean craze, but “Joan Collins Jeans” proved a year late to the game, and it folded with a spectacular loss a year later, as did another business venture of Green’s called Cupcraft.

Green eventually sold 41 Conduit Street, netting $30,000 from the sale, and in 1985 bought a debt-ridden denim retailer, Jean Jeanie, with multiple locations in London, and fixed its financial situation enough that he sold it six months later for $3 million. His next post was as chair and chief executive officer of clothing chain Amber Day, but this was a publicly traded company, and when the board became unhappy with his performance they fired him. In the early 1990s, he acquired a department store chain called Owen Owen and sold off its dozen locations to larger department store companies such as Debenham’s. In 1995, in another highly publicized deal, he led a buyout bid for Olympus Sports, which was at the time Britain’s largest seller of athletic goods and apparel. The price tag was one British pound, but Green and his fellow investors had agreed to take on a debt load of several million dollars. Again, Green engineered an impressive turnaround, and in 1998, when the company was sold for $550 million to another sporting-goods firm, Green earned $73 million on the deal.

By this point Green was a well-known figure in the British business press, but the media attention and his hard-charging lifestyle began to catch up with him. In 1995, at the age of just 43, he came close to suffering a heart attack, and a year later he was attacked by three men on the street outside his home in the posh London area of Hampstead, one of whom held a sword to his throat. Married by then, with two small children, he and his wife relocated to Monaco, and Green began commuting to London for his workweek. He was sometimes criticized for being a “tax exile,” that is, a wealthy citizen who registers a primary address in another country and lives there just enough days out of the year to avoid paying the onerous British personal income tax. These duties are especially high for incomes over six figures.

Green made a number of further acquisitions in the late 1990s, including Shoe Express and the Sears Group, which was not related to the U.S. department store chain of the same name but was a retail outfit that also had financial-services holdings. This particular acquisition was a hostile takeover bid for $1 billion, but in a few months Green and his group had sold off the various components and made $340 million for their trouble. He then made a well-publicized bid in 2000 for Marks & Spencer, Britain’s number-one retailer, but the deal fell through at the last minute. He had better luck later that year with his purchase of British Home Stores, known as “BHS,” for a purchase price of $380 million for its 156 stores. BHS was the number-five retailer in the country, but known as a somewhat staid provider of clothing and basic household necessities such as linens and dishes. He reverted it to a privately held company through a buyout of stock shares and began to implement immediate measures that revived its moribund sales.

In 2002 Green made his most spectacular acquisition when he bought the Arcadia Group, which owned a number of mass-market retail clothing store brands. Obtaining Bank of Scotland financing to the tune of $1.6 billion and investing $1.3 million of his own assets, he took control ofArcadia’s nearly 2,500 stores, which include a well-known women’s “cheap chic” powerhouse called Topshop. Founded at the onset of the Swinging London scene in 1964, Topshop had become a pariah in the fashion world by the 1980s, but it began to revive a bit with a new look for its stores and its own line of clothing. Within a short time, Green put his stamp on Top-shop as well as the other clothing retailers in the Arcadia stable, such as Miss Selfridge and Wallis, and sales began to jump correspondingly. “Green astounded the City—London’s financial district— with the speed at which he turned BHS and Arcadia around and paid back much of the $1.9 billion of debt he used to take them private,” noted Kiri Blakeley, a writer for Forbes Global. “He did it so effortlessly that the cry went up that he’d ‘stolen’ the franchises for much less than their worth.”

Green began selling off his other holdings in order to concentrate on Topshop and the rest of the Arca- dia brands, and was known as an involved boss who paid regular visits to all the stores, sometimes at midnight to check out the cleanup efforts and displays readied for the next day. He also enjoyed a somewhat fearsome reputation as a famously efficient chief executive officer, with a loathing of lengthy presentations and an aversion to leaving the office for meals. “You’d be surprised what you can get done in an hour, if you’ve got a purpose,” he told Samantha Conti in WWD. “I am 1,000 percent focused on what I do. I’m not into lunches and I’m not into meetings. I don’t do any of that corporate stuff or waste my time with charts, meetings, or market research.”

Topshop’s lines were so fashion-forward—as well as affordable—that the chain soon began to gain a reputation among the fashion elite. Green was known for cultivating famous shoppers, such as film star Lindsay Lohan and R&B diva Beyonce, and taking them for a late-night visit to Topshop’s flagship store on Oxford Circus. The 90,000square-foot store has four stories, and its back door takes deliveries three times daily to keep the merchandise in stock; an astounding 28,000 shoppers a day visit it. By contrast, a New York City landmark such as Bloomingdale’s, with a much larger footprint, hosts about 45,000 visitors daily. It is estimated that three out of every five British women shop regularly at Topshop or Arcadia’s other stores, making Green perhaps the most influential trendsetter in the country. In 2007, shoppers lined up overnight to be the first in the door when model Kate Moss’s exclusive Topshop line debuted, which quickly sold out.

Green has an opulent lifestyle that is somewhat of a rarity for British CEOs, who generally keep much lower, less flashy profiles. He owns a $20 million, Italian-made yacht called the Lionheart and uses his $45 million Gulfstream jet to fly back home to Monaco on Friday afternoons. The R&B group Destiny’s Child performed at his son’s 2005 bar mitzvah party in Monaco, and Green regularly hosts a birthday bacchanal every March for himself. In 2007, to celebrate turning 55, he flew two planeloads of guests to an exclusive resort in the Maldives. Later that year, however, the British press printed allegations that Topshop manages to keep its prices low because of contracts with manufacturers on another island in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius, where employment agents recruit foreign workers to toil in near-slavery conditions.

Even Green’s wife did not like him when they first met in the mid1980s in London, where Tina Palos had emigrated from South Africa to open a clothing boutique. “I thought he was dreadful,” she told Daily Mail journalist Kathryn Knight in a rare interview. “I remember him asking me who I was. I said I ran a boutique called Harabels and he said, rather dismissively, ‘Well I’ve never heard of it.’ I thought: ‘What an arrogant man.’” One legend about his acquisition of Arcadia holds that his daughter Chloe, just nine years old at the time, begged him to buy it.

Topshop’s appeal, however, seems universal. Altogether, Green oversees 40,000 employees and a retail empire with more than 2,300 stores in the United Kingdom and an additional 360 foreign franchises. There were plans to extend those numbers with the opening of the first Topshop in New York City by 2008. “I think everybody, from every end of the market place, from young through to old, wants to be fashionable,” he said in an interview with Polly Vernon for London’s Observer. “Everybody. Women want to feel like they’re wearing the right merchandise, regardless of age. They want to be trendy.”


Daily Mail (London, England), June 3, 2005, p. 22.

Forbes Global, March 15, 2004, p. 58.

Guardian (London, England), March 12, 2007, p. 3.

New York Times, June 21, 2006.

Observer (London, England), February 11, 2007, p. 32.

Sunday Times (London, England), September 1, 2002, p. 13; August 12, 2007, p. 3.

Times (London, England), October 19, 1981, p. 10.

WWD, March 24, 2003, p. 16; May 3, 2006, p. 1.

—Carol Brennan

More From