Have a conversation with Stefano Pessina and it won’t be long before he utters the phrase “double-digit growth” in his distinctive Italian accent. People who work with him probably hear him saying it in their sleep. It is his mantra and Alliance Boots has pulled it off again this year despite the ravages of the recession.

Have a conversation with Stefano Pessina and it won’t be long before he utters the phrase “double-digit growth” in his distinctive Italian accent. People who work with him probably hear him saying it in their sleep. It is his mantra and Alliance Boots has pulled it off again this year despite the ravages of the recession.

When he teamed up with KKR to buy Boots in a hugely controversial deal in 2007, the expectation was that the little-known Pessina would do the ultimate slash and burn job in order to tackle the enormous debt mountain he was going to have to pay down. But that was to misunderstand both the man and the nature of one of the most successful private equity deals. No one knows the pharmaceutical business better than Pessina, and he saw huge potential there to build on the trusted Boots brand and to create a global force in the highly complex wholesale market.

The pace of change has been what’s defined Pessina’s reign, with deals forged with best-in-class partners like Waitrose that fit with the brand’s ethos and present potential for growth. Add to that the takeover of Dollond & Aitchison, the conversion of all the former Alliance Pharmacy stores to Boots and the rebuilding of the supply chain and it shows how much can be done by private equity owners who don’t have to worry about the City.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been pain, and while Nottingham HQ still resembles a Nasa base, it is a much leaner place than it was before. But the traditions of the brand, and its key ranges like No7, have been built on rather than knocked down, and keeping them at the heart of business amid rapid change has been what’s driven Pessina’s all-important double-digit growth.

You can bank on it

Today we’re delighted to unveil the latest addition to the services we offer Retail Week subscribers, with the launch of Retail Week Knowledge Bank. Formerly known as Retail Knowledge Bank, and developed by respected analyst Robert Clark, the site provides comprehensive data and analysis on all aspects of the top 175 UK retailers.

Whether for benchmarking performance against rivals, understanding the competitive landscape or identifying companies to target, we think it will become an invaluable tool for anyone involved in UK retailing. And it’s included as part of your Retail Week subscription - go to page 28 to find out more.