The Debenhams boss may be stepping down in September, but he isn’t done with retail just yet. Amy Shields talks to the retail heavyweight about his new role with the BRC

The image of Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman sporting a pair of slippers and smoking a pipe while enjoying a quiet retirement was always an unlikely one.

The good-humoured Templeman no doubt enjoyed a wry laugh at himself when he announced he would stand down from the department store in September. The repeated “pipe and slippers” answer when probed by journalists on his future plans never really rang true.

So it was no surprise that Templeman’s next appointment came hot on the heels of his resignation from Debenhams. It was, however, a surprise that his move wasn’t into private equity, an area in which he has worked for
so long.

Instead he is becoming chairman of the British Retail Consortium, taking up the reins from former John Lewis managing director Luke Mayhew on October 1. It reflects that he lives and breathes retail, and he can often be spotted outside Debenhams’ Oxford Street store, puffing on a Benson & Hedges cigarette.

A serial deal-maker with the leadership of some of the biggest names in non-food retail under his belt, the former chief executive and chairman of Halfords, chief executive of Homebase and chief executive of Harveys made his name (and money) in leading successful private equity deals.

In 2003 he branched out beyond beds and bikes, and learned his meggings from his treggings by becoming chief executive at Debenhams, leading the company through a flotation in 2006. More recently he is credited for weathering a storm whipped up by the City following Debenhams’ debt-laden float, and the turbulence of the recession, by bringing in the profits at the department store business during some of the most challenging trading ever seen. Most recently he became non-executive chairman of Gala Coral, the bingo and betting group.

So, was the appointment of Templeman – a droll and self-deprecating character who avoids the limelight – a gamble or a sure thing?

A straw poll of some of the industry’s key players about the decision throws up words including “down-to-earth”, “adaptable” and “knowledgeable”, with one retail boss calling the appointment “inspired”.

Templeman’s appointment brings some non-food nous to the association – he will sit alongside BRC deputy chair, Tesco corporate and legal affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe – and his familiarity with both public and private businesses gives him a broad understanding of how retail businesses work and considerable clout with the government and other associations.

However, Templeman – in one of his more serious moments in a conversation peppered with the usual witticisms – insists that he will not be a spokesperson for the BRC, something that it does well enough now, he says, with the team headed up by the respected director-general Stephen Robertson. He does not joke about the seriousness of the job ahead and says he does not intend to turn the position into an opportunity to launch ‘The Templeman Show’, something some of his more headline-hungry counterparts have been accused of.

“I have had 30 years in retail and need to give something back,” Templeman says of his appointment, citing the sector’s key role in boosting the UK economy through job provision.

“I think all of us in retail have a part to play in ensuring we make a strong industry and that we are represented,” he adds.

Sally Elliott, of headhunter Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann, who placed Templeman in his new role, says: “He has a very deep understanding of the issues all retailers are facing, and a wide network of contacts in government as well as industry.”

In fact, Templeman is believed to be much better connected politically than many realise.

Robertson says: “Rob is a heavyweight in the world of retail. His huge experience and formidable knowledge of the big issues that the sector faces make him an ideal chairman as we work to create a vibrant and sustainable retail industry for the future.”

Hardly pipe and slippers stuff then. But then no one really expected Templeman to wean himself off retail anytime soon.

Rob Templeman

Age 53

Family Married with three daughters, one of whom studies fashion

Enjoys Powerboating

Things you may not know about Rob Templeman

  • He speaks fluent Spanish
  • He enjoys writing online dating profiles for his staff
  • He is committed to fundraising for the Children with Cancer UK charity