When news broke yesterday that Sir Philip Green had found a new chief executive of his flagship Topshop/Topman business, the common reaction was that of being nonplussed.
While followers of luxury fashion would be familiar with Paul Price, his appointment left many scratching their heads – his name was not one that had featured in general speculation (or Retail Week speculation) about who might fill the role.
Price has spent the past decade at Burberry and is at present chief merchandising officer.
His skills will have been honed to perfection during those 10 years and he was part of the c-suite team that guided the business through a period of significant change and made it an ever greater force to be reckoned with in the luxury market – synonymous with British style and renowned for its global fashion appeal.
Both of those characteristics should help him make his mark at Green’s empire as Topshop expands internationally, but some question whether it has quite the fashion clout it once had.
As he revealed the appointment, billionaire tycoon Green said: “I believe Paul will be a great catalyst in leading the next phase of Topshop/Topman’s global expansion.”
Prior to arriving at Burberry, Price spent several stints at various retailers in the US – a crucial market for Topshop, and home to the retailer’s co-investors with Green, private equity house Leonard Green.
He spent time there with retailers including homewares giant Williams Sonoma and Banana Republic.
He arrives at Topshop/Topman at a time when the retailer’s parent company Arcadia is beginning to look slightly embattled.
“The business desperately needs new talent following the departure of many Arcadia executives including Price’s predecessor Mary Homer”
Arcadia’s last full year results showed operating profit slid 16% from £252.9m to £211.2m on sales down from £2.07bn to £2.02bn.
Arcadia faces many of the same problems as its peers, such as changes to consumer spending habits and currency volatility, as well as some particular challenges of its own.
Arcadia’s poor financial results, coupled with the bad publicity for Green generated by the BHS debacle and the exodus of some of his senior staff, tell a very different story to that of the Topshop of old when it ruled the high street.
The business desperately needs new talent following the departure of many Arcadia executives including Price’s predecessor Mary Homer.
While there is no official talk of a turnaround plan, Price’s key task will be to examine the business and execute a recovery before things really turn south.
First-time chief exec
That will be no mean feat particularly for someone who, despite myriad senior roles, has never been a chief executive before.
Then again, Green is a particularly hands-on owner, especially where the Apple of his eye, Topshop/Topman, is concerned. Perhaps somebody used to reporting into a chief executive is better suited to the particularities of the role at Arcadia than somebody accustomed to calling every shot themselves.
Price is well thought of by those who know him, such as headhunter Moira Benigson.
“He’s fantastic, an excellent hire,” she says. “I think he will bring gravitas to Topshop.”
She believes that Price’s luxury background will not hold him back, despite the very different customer base he will have to cater for at Topshop.
“I think some people can translate well,” she says. “And it’s not that difficult to go from high end to lower end, it’s much easier than doing it the other way around.”
“The appointment also projects professionalism, a boon for Green at a time when his image has been called into question”
Price’s merchandising background mirrors that of his predecessor, Mary Homer.
Retail recruitment specialist Mary Anderson-Ford believes that stands him in excellent stead.
“That commercial brain makes for a great chief executive,” she asserts.
The appointment also projects professionalism, a boon for Green at a time when his image has been called into question, which could perhaps point to a change of direction for Topshop/Topman.
The two brands have always been led by a managing director, as with every fascia in the Arcadia stable.
The creation of the role of chief executive has led some to wonder whether it could be the first step towards Green selling one of the most famous names on the high street.
Whether that is the case, or whether Green intends to retain Topshop/Topman, Price is expected to play a pivotal role in bringing new relevance to one of the most venerable names in retail.