We sat down in the cold light of day and had a beer. He realised he likes M&S and we like him. We have shaken hands on it, it's as simple as that. He loves the business but he was a bit restless - creative people are like that. But we had a chat and he decided that there was a lot of potential to be creative here at M&S.
Wasn't it all a bit of a mess?
I call it good business. Haven't you ever had an argument with your girlfriend? He has shaken my hand and that's good enough for me. Listen, when we sat down afterwards, he said maybe I don't want to go. So I said you write down three things you want and I'll write down three things I want. And they were all soft and cuddly things, like I wrote I'd like more co-operation and I'd like you to be part of the business. He said funnily enough I've got the same things written down.
Are you taking market share from Next and other competitors?
I don't want to comment on our competitors but there are seven weeks to go before Christmas and some tough times ahead. Our plan hasn't changed. It's all about better product, better environment and better service. I believe we have the best price architecture on good-better-best product of any retailer in the country. I don't want to talk about our competitors too much but if you look at key competitors they are buying sales. We are not buying sales, we are 'first price right price'.
What advantages have you seen from overseas buying?
All our overseas sourcing offices are up and running and [sourcing director] Glen Tinton and [director of Far East procurement] Stuart McIvor [both appointed in May] are on site and adding value. As time goes on you will find quite a big swing into the Indian subcontinent, where we see a lot of opportunity. But, as I said last year, there is not a lot wrong with our supply base. It's about the people running it and we've got to get them moving forward.
What are the plans for the home business following the closure of Lifestore?
Home has had two terrible years and we've worked hard to realign prices. On furniture, we are working hard and we are flying at the moment. Now if we think about why that might be, there are lots of furniture retailers going bust at the moment. It's a big-ticket item and you want to buy it from someone like M&S that has a brand you can trust. In home we're being more aggressive still because we've lost some credibility and we want to win back the confidence of our customers.
Why have you split responsibility for your childrenswear offer between your men's and womenswear divisions instead of having a dedicated unit?
Boys and girls have got little in common. Boys have more in common with men, and girls increasingly have more in common with their mums these days. If you think about it, it makes more sense to pair them off with their respective divisions. It's not unique. George [at Asda] do it that way. Menswear will look after boyswear and Kate Bostock will look after babies, dressing up and girlswear.
How confident are you that you can lure customers away from the discounters?
The discounters have always been there. A few years ago they said Matalan was going to conquer the world, but now someone else is going to do it quicker. In the US, the share of the discounters has settled at about 30 per cent and if you look at the UK it looks as though it's going that way.
How is Christmas shaping up?
I can't control the external environment. That's why I said in the next three to four months you have to judge us by the performance of our peer group.