Lord Livingston is stepping up to become Dixons Carphone’s chairman as Sir Charles Dunstone prepares to give up the role in April.

Here, Retail Week takes a closer look at the credentials of the retailer’s incoming chairman. 

Lord Livingston has made a name for himself as both a retailer and government minister, but did not begin his career in either.

Born Ian Livingston, he grew up the youngest of four children in a suburb of Glasgow.

After graduating at just 19 with an economics degree from the University of Manchester, the first steps of his career were as an accountant.

A short stint in banking and at private-equity firm 3i followed, before he found himself in the finance department of Dixons Carphone.

“He didn’t just do the figures, he can manage people, manage ideas and manage the process of growth”

Lord Kalms, Dixons Carphone

This was when his career really began to take off.

“He just accelerated through to being finance director in a very short time,” says Lord Kalms, former Dixons chairman and its life president.

“The first time I met him he was working on my floor and he was then in the inner circle very quickly. We worked very closely together on many projects.”

An ‘outstandingly talented young man’

Lord Livingston is now chairman of Dixns Carphone

Ian livingston

Lord Livingston

Livingston was one of the youngest-ever finance directors of a FTSE 100 company at just 32, helped by a wide range of his skills.

“He was an outstandingly talented young man,” continues Kalms. “He didn’t just do the figures, he can manage people, manage ideas and manage the process of growth.”

Independent analyst Nick Bubb remembers Livingston well from this period.

Terming him “very sharp”, he remembers a charismatic, intellectual figure.

“He always had plenty of time to talk,” he says. “I had many interesting conversations with him and I got the impression that he actually liked talking to analysts, which is unusual [among executives].”

Livingston went on to spend more than a decade at Dixons, including six years as chief financial officer with then chief executive John Claire.

Cameron calls on BT

He then hopped over to the telecoms industry before taking on one of the most high-profile jobs in British industry as the chief executive of BT.

He held this – his first stint as a chief executive – for five years, presiding over it from 2008 to 2013.

“He always had plenty of time to talk. I had many interesting conversations with him and I got the impression that he actually liked talking to analysts, which is unusual [among executives]”

Nick Bubb, analyst

Responsible for diversifying the group by expanding its sports TV offer, he attracted the attention of then Prime Minister David Cameron, who persuaded him to take up the role of minister of state for trade and investment.

This role ran until 2015, when he returned to the business at which he made his name, taking on the deputy chairmanship at Dixons Carphone.

Listening to Lord Kalms, himself a doyen of retail, sing Livingston’s praises, it’s clear that the new chairman is a prodigious talent.

“He is a first-class negotiator,” he asserts. “Very charming and very energetic.”

He terms the pairing of Livingston and chief executive Seb James “a marriage made in heaven”.

“They’re similar thinkers, Seb and him,” he says. “They’re quick, they’re very ambitious and enthusiastic but they’re also cautious – they plan carefully and wisely.

“They are two very powerful boys together and they have their old mentors, Charles and myself still floating around.”

Redefining retail

Such wise planning will be appreciated at Dixons Carphone, which just last month unveiled ambitions to “redefine retail”.

Inspired by businesses such as Zip Car, Rent the Runway and Amazon’s Prime, over time Dixons Carphone will shift away from a traditional retail model.

Instead customers will sign up for a subscription that will entitle them to access a bundle of goods and services, such as repairs, installations and upgrades.

Customers that subscribe will not own the product outright under the plans, which are in keeping with the rapidly developing ‘sharing economy’.

This development shows that Dixons Carphone is still at the forefront of retail, innovating fiercely but with razor-sharp precision.

“To take over from Charles is no easy job,” Lord Kalms points out. “He is a great entrepreneur, one of the greatest retailers.”

It may not be an easy job, but if anyone can rise to the challenge, it appears Lord Livingston is more than capable.