Selling DFS might have been a surprise, but there’s plenty more to do yet, says Lord Kirkham
Imagine selling a business just after denying on the record that is for sale… While scandalised by this completely outrageous behaviour by Mohamed Al Fayed, I was even more shocked that Harrods seems to have fetched three times the price of DFS, even though it earns less money. Is he just a better salesman than I am?
Over the five years I have been privileged to write these columns, on the odd occasion it has been a challenge to find something current and different to write about.
There is no difficulty this time, after my categorical denial that DFS would be sold was plastered across the front page of this fine magazine. Though our editor was kinder than The Sunday Times and did not follow up by printing a colour cartoon of me with my pants on fire.
When I made my erroneous statement I really did think the process of selling the business that has been my life, love, hobby and religion had hit a brick wall. But shortly afterwards serious negotiations began with Richard Baker and Advent International, who convinced me that they would look after the DFS people. Securing the best possible future for my friends and colleagues was always a principal concern.
I have always prided myself on doing a professional job at DFS,
with no corners cut. But, like Gordon Brown, owning up to the odd mistake is sometimes unavoidable and I did make a monumentally rubbish job
of succession planning. I planned nothing at all. I was enjoying running DFS so much that I never stopped to consider that I was not immortal.
I freely admit that I buried my head in the sand until it finally dawned on me that the only way to secure the long-term future of my business was through a change of ownership.
My pal Malcolm Walker, boss of Iceland, has already written about our trip to the North Pole, where I reckon a bit of retail history was made when the sale of DFS was concluded over a satellite phone.
By the way, I can heartily recommend the trip there and will certainly return for more of the majestic scenery of near neighbour Spitsbergen - though the two hours spent at the Pole itself was about 1 hour 55 minutes longer than was strictly necessary to appreciate all on offer. And even Mary Portas would have struggled to comment on it as a shopping experience.
Like Edith Piaf, I have no regrets - though the number of congratulatory retirement messages I have received, indicate that many have got the wrong zig. I am selling a business not retiring. Where I come from, hanging up your miner’s lamp was usually the prelude to a quick funeral ham tea.
In fact, I am looking to being more active in my charities, art, politics - and retailing. And I will continue to share with you my 41 years’ accumulated wisdom, new experiences and views (until Retail Week gives me the sack).
Lord Kirkham is founder of DFS