For the best part of a year, Sir Philip Green has been a near-exile from his own stores.
Following the collapse of BHS just 13 months after he sold it to Dominic Chappell’s Retail Acquisitions, the Arcadia tycoon went from being retail’s King Midas to public enemy number one amid outrage at the fate of BHS pensioners.
He could barely show his face in public or even in his beloved Oxford Street Topshop, such was the scale of the scandal, and pressure grew for him to open his wallet and address the BHS pension deficit.
This week Sir Philip acted, injecting £363m in cash from his personal resources in settlement of the BHS pension schemes.
About time, many would say.
However the important point is that it has been done. Sir Philip said he would “sort” the issue, and so, pretty much, he has.
The past 12 months will have been a difficult and uncertain time for former BHS staff and pensioners, who must have feared their shortfall might never be restored as time slipped by.
That said, a solution was never going to be found overnight – it had to be done in agreement with the Pensions Regulator, Pension Protection Fund and the BHS Pension Trustees.
In such controversial circumstances, every aspect would be checked, double-checked and checked again.
“Although he can be an abrasive, intimidating character, the Arcadia boss sets great store by his reputation and is proud of his record as an employer”
But the lengthy process did not mean, as some feared, that nothing was happening.
And the comments on yesterday’s deal from BHS Pension Trustees chair Chris Martin show that the eventual outcome was worthwhile.
Martin said the cash from Sir Philip means pension scheme members “will be offered benefit improvements, enhanced flexibility and long-term sustainability for their benefits”.
Sir Philip must rue the day Dominic Chappell ever darkened his door.
“But, in the end, Sir Philip has done the right thing. Even his bête noire, the Daily Mail, has ‘revoked’ his ‘Sir Shifty’ moniker”
Although he can be an abrasive, intimidating character, the Arcadia boss sets great store by his reputation and is proud of his record as an employer.
His miscalculation – or in the opinion of some, willful decision to look the other way – about Chappell and Retail Acquisitions just about cost him his name.
But, in the end, Sir Philip has done the right thing. Even his bête noire, the Daily Mail, has ‘revoked’ his ‘Sir Shifty’ moniker and wrote today, ‘Well done, Sir Phil’.
In doing so he has restored some of the retail industry’s reputation as a responsible employer as well as his own.
Although pensioners – who along with those who lost their jobs were the real casualties of the BHS debacle – will not get the full pension they might have expected, they will get on average 88% of what they originally anticipated, so can breathe a little easier.
To avoid similar suffering in future the lessons of BHS – in particular the need for due diligence on would-be buyers of companies and greater pension safeguards when deals take place – must be learned, not just by retailers but by business more widely.