The N Brown boss might have married last week, but instead of honeymooning he’s been busy updating the City. Lisa Berwin looks at the driving force behind the catalogue group
N Brown chief executive Alan White has spent the week updating the City on the progress of the home shopping group and addressing shareholders at its AGM. All par for the course for the affable Mancunian, but an unusual start to White’s marriage – his wedding was just last weekend.
White has proved himself at the helm of the group, which specialises in larger women’s fashion and is famed for its size 56L bras. Described by Numis analyst Nick Coulter as a “charming” man, he says White continues to delight the often critical City.
“N Brown is very reliable and consistent so the City loves them,” he says. Coulter maintains N Brown is like giants such as Tesco in the way it delivers the growth and strategy it sets out.
White also spearheaded the push towards online alongside the traditional catalogues. Online has grown from around 3 per cent of the group’s turnover in 2002 to 34 per cent today. White believes this will increase dramatically, reaching around 50 per cent in the coming years.
Coulter adds: “He has been one of the pioneers of transitioning from a more traditional catalogue business to more of an internet business. He is good at spotting and taking advantage of the niche.”
N Brown’s niche is a lucrative area. While it is an area some people might not feel comfortable talking about, UK waistlines continue to expand, meaning larger sizes are more in demand. The Department of Health says that almost one in four adults are now obese and that this figure could rise to as many as nine in 10 by 2050.
White can come across as unassuming, but he has been savvy in capturing a key market with N Brown and has a formidable CV when it comes to distance selling. He has held roles at Littlewoods and was at N Brown as finance director for 14 years from 1985, before returning to the helm in 2002. He was also a non-executive at JD Sports for five years after it floated
Arbuthnot Securities general retail analyst Jean Roche says: “Not everyone can move from finance director to chief executive successfully.”
She adds that White really is the driving force behind the business. “He inspires confidence and has a calm personality that I am sure people like working for,” she says. “He is not just a nice guy, though; he is good with people and does what he says he is going to do.”
Roche says that his careful approach has also served the business well, and he has managed expansion cautiously. N Brown’s first move overseas is one of those considered moves and was thoroughly researched before it took women’s fashion brand Simply Be to Germany in its first international foray.
White – an active skier, who also enjoys tennis, squash and watching Manchester United – has caught the eye of other businesses too. His strong financial and operational expertise has made him a sought after non-executive for companies such as Topps Tiles.
White has also been strengthening the N Brown board this year, with Independent News & Media chief Ivan Fellow brought on board as deputy chairman and, perhaps more surprisingly, former news reader Anna Ford. White said at the time: “We didn’t have a female non-executive director, even though 94 per cent of our customers are female, so wanted to change this.”
White, it seems, is key to N Brown’s success. As Coulter says: “White is really the soul of that company.” And as the demand for larger sizes continues to swell, there is fat chance of N Brown’s success slowing any time soon.
THE SOUL OF N BROWN
Status Married (last Saturday)
Other positions presently held Chairman, Mail Order Trading Association; director, European Mail Order Trade Association; non-executive director, Topps Tiles