Profile & Forecast - Philip Mountford: Chief Executive, Moss Bros

Moss Bros chief executive Philip Mountford is the first to say he is ambitious. The man with the 'bone-crunching' handshake arrives at his Clapham office at 6am every morning. After 20 minutes of work, he runs 10km in the gym and is back at his desk by 7.30am.

A gruelling routine, but Mountford is used to challenges. In his first job at Simpsons Piccadilly, he worked his way up to buying and merchandising director by the age of 30. Heading Versace's UK and Scandinavian wholesale, he boosted sales by 400 per cent. Now, in the hot seat at Moss Bros, he wants to transform the business.

Taking Moss Bros to the next stage remains a challenge. Mountford joined in 2002, drafted in by former chief executive Adrian Wright. At the time, Moss Bros was posting losses of£7 million, was being stalked by entrepreneur Shami Ahmed and had debts of£10 million. Mountford saw this as a salivating opportunity.

'The reason I came was because it was bad. This is an opportunity to prove how good a retailer you are,' he says.

Following the controversial departure of Wright in February, Mountford became chief executive. He denies speculation that Moss Bros promoted him in order to prevent him being headhunted by Marks & Spencer as head of clothing - he says Moss Bros had got to the point that it needed someone else to take it to the next tier.

However, it is clear that Mountford's ambition was always to be boss.

'It probably came a little earlier than I expected, but I always hoped that at some point I would run the business.'

As a boy, Mountford's dream was to be a professional athlete. He ran for Blackheath Harriers and was a member of the England athletics youth squad, specialising in the 800 m, but his running career was stopped in its tracks when he broke his knee in a motorbike accident.

Aged 19, he landed a job at Simpsons and hoped it would give him the managerial training for a career in sports management. 'I never anticipated staying in retail,' he recalls.

In a pattern that has characterised his career so far, Mountford stayed because he was offered a good job opportunity. Aged 21, he became one of the youngest buyers for Simpson's first international suit room. Nine years later, he was retail director at Daks Simpson. 'I was just 30 years old, I was already on the main board, it would be a long time before I became the managing director and I felt I'd been there as long as I should have been there,' he says.

What followed was a stint at US casualwear brand Nautica before he was yet again offered a job he could not refuse, at Versace. He eventually left to get back into retail. 'It is frustrating working with mono brands. You put your brands in the hands of retailers. After you've sold it to them, you know there are lots of things you can do to help them sell more. I wanted to get back into the position where I could drive the sales side.'

Mountford's plans for Moss Bros are unsurprisingly ambitious. He is targeting profits of£3.5 million next year and wants the retailer to be number two in the men's suit market in the next 2 years - at present it is third, after M&S and Burton.

Cecil Gee stores are being rebranded, and Moss Bros growth may come earlier than expected.

He brushes aside the possibility of taking the business private, insisting that stakeholders Kevin Stanford and Shami Ahmed are simply investors - the business is set for growth and management is concentrating on giving shareholders value.

Meanwhile, Mountford will carry on running. He runs a half-marathon most weekends and says it is never a chore, apart from once when he was training and had to run 17 miles home. He remembers being caught in a torrential downpour. 'I was so wet I just laughed at myself, but I thought 'I've still got 13 miles to go'. So I ran home, because I don't like giving up.'

With that kind of attitude, Moss Bros could be on a winning streak.


Philip Mountford

Age: 39

Education: Ramsden Boys School, Orpington, Kent

Family: married, with two children

Interests: running, tennis, golf

Career History

February 2004: appointed chief executive, Moss Bros

2002-February 2004: group trading director, Moss Bros

1999-2002: managing director, Gianni Versace wholesale division for UK and Scandinavia

1997-99: sales and marketing director, Nautica Europe

1984-97:from trainee manager, Simpson Piccadilly, to retail director at Daks Simpson Group by 1996.