Each of us has certain people who, during our working careers, have helped us in some significant way and as a result become a positive memory.

It might be the person who gave you your first store manager role, board position or the ultimate promotion to chief executive; or a creative individual who opened your eyes to new ideas or ways of working.

Often you also admire and remember these individuals because of the way they treat people.

One such person in my career was Tim Daniels, who sadly passed away last week.

“In the early 1990s, Selfridges was a dowdy, grotty store unable to attract the obvious brands of the era”

Tim spent a total of 17 years at Selfridges, including nine years as managing director, before retiring in 1996. During his leadership, the transformation of the Oxford Street store began from something resembling “Grace Brothers” (a fictional chain depicted in TV programme Are You Being Served?) to what you see today.

In the early 1990s, Selfridges was a dowdy, grotty store unable to attract the obvious brands of the era such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

With no air-conditioning, weak lighting and poor customer circulation (sections of the store had no escalators), as a department store experience Selfridges trailed well behind Harrods, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis.

One of the large retail conglomerates of that era, Sears, owned the business, but it had been very reluctant to make the required investment to change the situation.

With its fantastic location, high ceilings and Corinthian columns, this grand building was perfect for retailing. The problem was that the inside was a mess and no-one knew what the business stood for.

The Masterplan

When I joined Selfridges in 1991, Tim and his team had already started to create the Masterplan to transform the store. He knew that there was a huge opportunity for a modern department store.

“The changes required a capital investment of £45m at a time when Sears was used to an annual spend of between £5m and £8m”

However, the changes required a capital investment of £45m at a time when Sears was used to an annual spend of between £5m and £8m.

So Tim persuaded Sears to implement an initial phase in a section of the store at the east end of the building nearest to Bond Street Tube station.

The results were fantastic and, rather like redecorating your sitting room at home and then finding you have to carry out the same exercise on the rest of the house, Sears was on the hook for the remaining investment. We actually went on to spend £93m!

So although Tim retired midway through the five-year programme, he deserves the credit for the vision and persistence in getting the project started.

Team spirit

But it was his human side that is remembered by so many of us who worked with him.

Tim was a passionate advocate of good customer service – something that sadly today is still hit-and-miss in department stores. Managing by walking about the store, he led by example, knowing the names of hundreds of people on the shop floor, talking to customers and motivating the sales managers. 

Whether the junior buyer was responsible for glamorous cosmetics or functional kitchenware, he took time with them to understand the thinking behinds the brands and products they selected.

Well-read, Tim showed a keen interest in the book department. A constant stream of authors’ book signings helped Selfridges to become the largest grossing independent bookstore in London. Similarly, his personal interest in food and wine ensured that the Food Hall was world-renowned.

In the Selfridges boardroom, he created a strong team spirit and camaraderie that continues today among the individuals. For me, personally, this was my first directorship of a sizeable business, and I loved it!

Tim Daniels, lovely man, please rest in peace – and thank you.