Friday, July 22, 2011

Philip Green’s Rags to Riches: From South London to Monaco

The British billionaire businessman Sir Philip Green, who owns some of the UK's largest retails, is regarded as the ninth richest person in Britain with assets worth around £4.43 billion in 2008. In the UK, he owns 2,300 shops and controls 12 per cent of the retail clothing market, making his empire the second largest in the sector. Only Marks and Spencer is ahead, though Green has tried to change that with three unsuccessful takeover bids.


Though he is a UK resident and is based during the weekdays at a London hotel, Green is a commuter from the French Riviera. He lives in an apartment in Monaco with his South African wife Christina (above) and their children Chloe (also pictured above) and Brandon. He plays tennis with Prince Albert of Monaco and counts among his friends Lord Hanson, Mohamed al-Fayed of Harrods, supermodel Kate Moss (below) and music mogul Simon Cowell.


So how did a lad from South London become one of the most successful businessmen in the country with a glamourous lifestyle in the South of France?

Following the birth of their son Philip in 1952 in Croydon, South London, the Green family moved up to Hampstead Garden, a middle-class enclave in North London. At the age of nine he was sent to the now-closed Carmel College in Oxfordshire. After leaving school at 16 without a single qualification, he worked in the family business, one of the first shoe importers to bring products in from China and Hong Kong. He traveled to the U.S., Europe and Asia. It was on his return that he set up his own business with a £20,000 loan, importing jeans from Asia to sell to retailers in London. In 1979, Green bought up the entire stock of ten designer label clothes sellers who had gone into receivership. He then had the clothes dry-cleaned, mounted on hangers, wrapped in polythene to make them look new, and then bought a place to sell them to the public. This was the beginning of his retail empire.

In 1988, Green became chairman and chief executive of a discount retailer called Amber Day. While the share performed well, the company eventually suffered a series of profit downgrades and, in 1992, he was forced to resign by one of its institutional shareholders. He has not led a quoted company since. Instead he has relied upon a close group of like-minded entrepreneurs, including Tom Hunter (a sports shoe millionaire from Scotland) and the Barclay brothers, to help fund his forays into the UK's High Streets.

Green started his retail empire by purchasing the department store chain Owen Owen, which at the time had about 12 branches trading under the Owen Owen and Lewis's brand names. During his ownership most of these department stores were sold to other operators, including Debenhams and Allders, or were closed, leaving only the Liverpool branch trading as Lewis's. In 2004 this remaining store was sold off to David Thompson. In 1995, he linked with Hunter to buy the sports retailer Olympus then linked with the Barclay brothers to acquire the Sears retail chain.


In 1999, Green made his first bid for Marks and Spencer. Blocked by the M&S board, Green gave up and purchased the ailing British Home Stores for £200 million. The company was completely turned around, rebranded as BHS. Since he took over, profits have tripled to over £200 million a year. Next, Green bought the Arcadia Group, which owns well-known chains such as Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Topshop/Topman and Wallis. Green paid £850 million.

Besides all of these retail ventures, Green has also donated more than £6 million to education, the bulk of which has gone into The Fashion Retail Academy. He has also generously supported the industry charity Retail Trust.


Green may be philanthropic, but he has also amassed some extravagant items, such as a 208 foot, £32 million Benetti yacht and a £20 million Gulfstream G550 private jet. For his birthday, his wife bought him a solid gold Monopoly set featuring his very own acquisitions. More lavish spending includes: a £4 million Bar Mitzvah for his son in 2005 with more than 200 guests in the French Riviera, featuring Andrea Bocelli and Destiny's Child; his 50th birthday party when he flew 200 guests in a chartered Boeing 747 to a hotel in Cyprus for a three-day toga party that was serenaded by Tom Jones and Rod Stewart; and his 55th birthday celebration when he flew 100 guests in his private jet to the exclusive Four Season Maldives resort, an eco-spa on a private island in the Indian Ocean.

These kinds of extravagances are fitting for someone who is said to live in Monaco in order to avoid taxes. Taveta Investments, the company that was used to acquire Arcadia in 2002, is in the name of Green's wife, a Monaco resident, which helps the couple avoid millions of pounds in tax that would be payable if a UK resident owned the company. There have also been accusations that Green is an asset-stripper as seen with his experiences with Owen Owen and the purchase of the UK arm of Etam, which have seen a wide sell-off of stores. Arcadia has also been criticized by anti-sweatshop groups for the pay and conditions of both overseas and UK workers. None of these accusations have been proved.

Seizing on the recent financial turmoil, Green mounted a coup last year that effectively gives him control of the High Street. He bought the £2 billion debt of Iceland's retail giant Baugur, which owns some of the biggest names in retailing such as Whistles, Oasis, Warehouse, Principles, Karen Millen, Coast and the House of Fraser department stores. The purchase made Green the single most powerful individual in the history of the High Street.


Last year he joined forces with his good friend Simon Cowell to form a £1 billion global entertainment company in a bid to rival Disney. The music mogul and retail tycoon will pool finances and industry knowledge to create a worldwide business that straddles show business and fashion. The yet to be named company is being launched at a time of low budgets and lack of investment, but Cowell has been responsible for some of the biggest shows of the past decade.

It is a bold move, one that will see Green leave the comfort of the High Street for the bustling netherworld that is Hollywood Boulevard. Let's hope he doesn't get lost.



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