Last evening, in his first interview, Dominic Chappell told BBC’s Newsnight that he apologised “sincerely and utterly” to the 11,000 staff of to the failed High Street retailer BHS. HR180’s MD and founder, Claire Morley-Jones, shares her feelings…
And so, here we are again… business is now, once again, a ‘dirty’ word after the latest scandal to hit the headlines – the collapse of BHS after having been sold for a mere £1, and routinely asset stripped, with the closure now of 163 stores and loss of 11,000 jobs.
Interestingly, the general public LOVED the cut and thrust of contestants battling it out in the ‘Apprentice’ with frayed tempers, tantrums and unfair accusations, but when those fake, sensationalised and questionable business practises are then played out in real life, with tragic personal consequences, they don’t seem so funny anymore. The testimonies over the past weeks to the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee could have come straight from the pages of a crime novel, or indeed an Apprentice script, with accusations of last minute deal scuppering, threats to kill (allegedly), illegal money transfers and a £571m pension deficit.
All of which make people who work hard to have viable, sustainable businesses, who care about their employees and try to give back to their community a harder job. It’s often hard to announce “I run my own business” usually for a number of reasons. In the past I’m normally asked, “Ah do you work with your husband then” or, “Oh, I see, you work from home!” in a very kind, but patronising manner – as though I’m pretending and deluding myself I’m an entrepreneur and therefore, worthy of the greatest amount of pity.
At the moment though, running my own business means being a leper! Business now comes with an immediate impression that I am a ‘hard-nosed cow’ who doesn’t care about anyone but myself, clambering over the backs and hard work of my staff to take advantage of them for the greatest personal gain. And who can blame the general public for having that opinion when every time they pick up a newspaper, switch on the TV or open a news website there’s a barrage of business baloney telling the world how bad we are!
Tycoon Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000 for £200 million. In just two years of his ownership, £422 million in dividends was paid out with the vast majority going to him and his family. He seems to have taken out far more in value than he paid for the business in the first place. Last year, he disposed of BHS for just £1. When Sir Philip bought BHS, the pension fund had a surplus of more than £5 million and it remained in the black as late as 2008. Yet when he got rid of the business, he had turned this into a deficit of hundreds of millions of pounds. The pension fund now reportedly has a black hole of £571 million.
Mr Chappell described the £2.6m he took out of the company as a “drip in the ocean”, however, to many people this is actually a large sum particularly given the turnaround and investment BHS needed. He blames previous owner, Sir Philip Green, saying, “Philip has been in BHS for one thing only, and that was to extract as much money as possible, which he did within the first couple of years.” He said he was shocked by the dilapidated state of some of the BHS stores, blaming Sir Philip for failing to invest in the company, however, what on earth did he think he was going to purchase for £1 – surely he couldn’t have been that naïve to think he was getting first class, top quality stores? Neither is entirely blameless in this whole sorry affair.
It’s time to put up or shut up, guys, and support the (mainly female) staff who have lost earnings – and pension – as a result of the ‘Monopoly’ game these so called entrepreneurs have played with their employees’ lives. Let’s get business back on the right track – we have enough to worry about over the coming months and years without constant business bad news stories.
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