Mohamed Al Fayed’s sale of Harrods concludes one of the more colourful chapters in UK retailing.
Mohamed Al Fayed’s sale of Harrods concludes one of the more colourful chapters in UK retailing. I wasn’t around in 1985 when he bought the store and became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Tiny Rowland, but ever since he has never been far from controversy as he sought to use his ownership of the store to buy himself credibility in the UK.
The one remark everyone in retail makes about Harrods is about the revolving door of senior management in the business during his time in charge. Certainly Al Fayed developed a reputation of being a challenging boss, but in the last few years things seem to have calmed down under the steady hand of its avuncular MD Michael Ward, who appeared to have developed a good relationship with Al Fayed.
Harrods still labours with the reputation of being a part tourist trap, part playground of the world’s super-rich, but you could argue the store hasn’t got the credit it deserved for upping its game as a retailer, particularly in fashion, and it has traded strongly through the recession.
The reason it doesn’t get that credit is probably because for the past two and a half decades the business has existed in the shadow of its owner. Its new owners from Qatar are likely to be lower profile but more likely to take advantage of opportunities to grow the brand and I’m not surprised to hear they are thinking about taking it overseas. While it might - unfairly - have a bit of a kitsch image among some people here, the Harrods brand is incredibly powerful among the world’s super-rich and has massive potential beyond Knightsbridge which Al Fayed barely scratched the surface of.