“Philip Green is not the unmitigated ogre he is often painted, but a mix of belligerence, naivety and at times a certain gruff charm.” – reports Ruth Sunderland at Daily Mail
His moods are like the English weather. In every encounter I’ve had with the Topshop tycoon in the more than two decades I’ve known him, the climate has shifted from glowering storms to sunshine and back again with disconcerting rapidity. He can also be very, very funny, sometimes intentionally.
His abuse of journalists is legendary and worn by some on the receiving end almost as a badge of honour. For many young business reporters, getting the hairdryer treatment from Sir Philip is an unavoidable initiation.
Yet his attitude to the Press is deeply contradictory. He is a creature of the media, with the highest profile of any businessman in Britain. He will pick up the phone and talk even to the lowliest retail correspondent, whilst at the same time professing contempt for the trade.
Write anything, no matter how anodyne, about him, and you can bank on an expletive-flecked phone call from the man himself.
Unlike most corporate chieftains, he does not insulate himself behind an army of spin-doctors mouthing bland platitudes, which at least makes him more entertaining than many of today’s colourless breed of chief executives.
His phone call to the Telegraph, where he threatened to bankrupt the editor and referred to a female journalist as ‘your girl’ is vintage Green in its bullying bombast, bravado, aggression and arrogance.
When I interviewed him last spring, it only took 20 minutes for him to threaten to walk out because he didn’t like a line of questioning about why, when he is such an astute businessman, he sold BHS to a serial bankrupt for £1. But soon after that, the snarling died down and he had transformed into a cheeky-chappy raconteur, telling a string of stories about his early days in business.
After the piece was printed, he called me and said:
‘Well honey, I knew I couldn’t expect any sympathy. The word comes between ‘s***’ and ‘syphilis’ in the dictionary.’ Tasteless, yes, but I confess it made me laugh.
Despite his frequent blood-curdling threats of legal action, going to court is not Green’s usual style. He prefers to rant and rave, then move on to his next row – if nothing else, it saves him a fortune in legal costs. He backed down in this case with the Daily Telegraph because the last thing he will have wanted was to be dragged away from his home in the tax haven of Monaco to appear in a court in London, with all the attendant bad publicity.
He will also have wanted to put an end to the embarrassment for the sake of his wife Tina, who is not happy about the latest episode in her husband’s eventful business career.
Despite his aggression and hair-trigger temper, Green usually sees himself as the victim in his confrontations.
In the row over the BHS pension fund, he became obsessed with the idea he was being persecuted by the veteran Labour MP Frank Field, who was a vociferous opponent.
In this new dispute, he believes the villain is Labour peer Peter Hain, who used parliamentary privilege to break the injunction, and named him as the anonymous businessman behind the accusations of sexism and bullying. And, of course, he blames The Daily Telegraph. In his own mind, he is more sinned against than sinning.
When I spoke to him yesterday after the court verdict, he was slightly subdued, saying he feels ‘sad and disappointed’ about the case. Within minutes, though, he was back to his usual sarcastic self. Throughout the case, Green’s supporters have insisted it is not about claims of sexual assault, abuse or violence by former employees, but is merely ‘Philip being Philip’.
By this, they mean swaggering, swearing and generally acting like a character from the TV series Life On Mars, set in an era when political correctness had not been invented.
He seems genuinely unable to understand why his behaviour has created any upset, or why he is being criticised for sexism. As he sees it, he has spent 45 years in business working with tens of thousands of people, and hardly any have complained.
On the sexism charge, he certainly doesn’t restrict his boorishness to women. He operates an equal opportunities policy when it comes to rudeness: he’s just as likely to be offensive to men. He also does have some loyal female employees, including his assistant Katie, a no-nonsense Irishwoman who has worked for him for more than 20 years.
In a concerted Meghan-style PR effort, three senior women yesterday phoned my office saying they had each worked for Green at his Arcadia fashion empire for more than ten years and wanted to defend their boss.
‘We have a huge amount of respect for him. Of course he loses his temper, people do. It’s been said he makes women feel uncomfortable. But we are all strong, experienced women and I don’t recognise this person I am reading about,’ one of them said. ‘We wouldn’t work for someone who did behave like that. We are appalled because it’s so disruptive to the business, which is 98 per cent women. I feel it is very one-sided.’
He can be obnoxious, there’s no doubt about that. But depending on which Philip Green turns up, he is capable of kindness – friends of his say he goes out of his way to help people, often anonymously.
ALTHOUGH he will have found this latest row an unpleasant experience, perhaps more so even than the one over the BHS pension fund, it is unlikely to prompt him to change his ways.
When I asked him if he will behave differently in future, he swatted away the question and hit back at the Daily Telegraph.
‘I am sad and disappointed that people want to conduct their business in this manner. Every single journalist I have dealt with knows if you call up, I answer my phone. I tried very hard to call the editor of The Daily Telegraph, who refused to engage,’ he says.
‘To try to undermine or encourage people to breach a non-disclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement they had signed cannot be the right way to run a business.’
Green’s whole demeanour – his deep brown perma-tan, the colour of a basted roast chicken, his salty language, his uncensored stream-of-consciousness rants and his shameless ostentation – make him a one-off in the increasingly restrained world of the City.
When he was making his name as a brash young fashion trader, his behaviour – unacceptable though some of it may be in the modern workplace – might barely have raised an eyebrow. The trouble for Philip Green is that he never saw the need to evolve – and in this case, that has been his downfall.
Originally published at Daily Mail