Speaking at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona, Arcadia and Bhs chief executive Sir Philip Green warned that the tough economic conditions would expose who the good and bad retailers are.

Green said: “You don’t have to be Einstein to have made money over the past ten years. Now we’ll see who can keep it. It’s pretty dark out there, now we’ll see who’s got the lights.”

He said it was not a case of cost cutting or job losses, but a question of who could keep the business model evolving. He added that it has been too easy for people to get money to fund deals in recent years, but it has been a case of “the blind leading the blind”.

Green commented that one of the big problems with the retail industry at present is that not enough of the people running the companies have a financial interest in the company. He said the corporate culture had “taken away visionary people” and that was the next bread of people that need to come into the industry. He added that in public companies people often spend too much time trying to please the crowd and too little running the business.

Green said he admired fellow speaker J Crew chairman and chief executive Millard Drexler because, despite there being other shareholders in the business, he talks as if he is the private owner of the business.

Both Green and Drexler have a very hands-on approach to managing their businesses. He said you need “feel and touch for the people and merchandise and most important you need constant contact with the customer”. Drexler holds open office hours every week. “It’s amazing what you learn when there are no barriers,” he said.

Drexler said he also attends many interviews, even for younger and junior staff. He hires for attitude not qualifications. He looks for “high energy and passion” and hires “the people that I admire”. Sir Philip interviews many of the buyers himself, but rather than trawl through CVs he gets out a wad of cash and instructs them to go out and buy “what’s missing in my shops”. Although, “Some of them I don’t see again,” he joked.

Talking about retailers they admire, Sir Philip said Zara was an example of a business he would like to own, although said he had no plans to buy it. He said: “If you go to different countries and their shops do look the same – with 3,600 stores you have to admire that.” Drexler said: “I admire people who over the last 10 or 15 years have continued to build a good business, improved earnings and have happy people working for them.”