Sir Philip Green faced the combined might of the business, innovation and skills (BIS) and work and pensions select committees today. In a mammoth hearing lasting close to six hours, the Arcadia boss was grilled about every aspect of his tenure as BHS owner. So what did we learn in the hearing?
We learned that talks are ongoing to secure a deal for BHS’s pensioners. But we also learned more about the man. Here are five things we didn’t know about Green before this morning.
1. Green still uses a chequebook
A large part of the second half of the session focused on how much Green knew about Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley’s bid to buy BHS. At one point Iain Wright, chair of the work and pensions committee, asked Green: “What blocked the deal?”
Quick as a flash, Green turned to his right inside jacket pocket, which was sadly empty, and then to his left, produced a cheque book and proudly proclaimed, “one of these”.
It was an odd moment that highlighted Green’s attitude to the modern world. He earlier said he avoided using email, “in case I get into trouble”, and revealed he has an old Nokia mobile phone.
2. He does not like staring
The hearing was not always an amicable affair. Almost straight away, Green took objection to the gaze of BIS committee member Richard Fuller. Green was half way through answering a question from another panel member when he stopped, turned to Fuller and said, “Sir, do you mind not looking at me like that all the time, it’s really disturbing.”
In Green’s defence he did later generously concede, “now you’re asking me a question you can look at me,” under examination from Fuller. The hapless MP incurred the witness’s wrath again shortly after a break, when a committee clerk came up and whispered something to him when Green was talking.
3. He is very sorry
One of the first things Green did was apologise to BHS staff for the collapse of the business and the subsequent “pensions mess”. At various points he described the situation as “a sad end”, “utterly avoidable” and “ridiculously stupid”.
At times he did appear genuinely contrite. He accepted that some of the fault lay on his shoulders for selling BHS to Retail Acquisitions’ majority shareholder Dominic Chappell (“I picked the wrong guy”) and not getting involved in sorting out the pensions deficit earlier (“I should have but I didn’t”).
Some of this goodwill was undone, however, when Green was asked about whether he regretted his poor decisions. “Life moves on,” he said. “Not for the BHS employees it doesn’t,” fired back Wright.
4. Green and Iain Wright will not be going for a drink
It was not the only terse exchange between Green and Wright.
At one point Wright implied Green’s ego may have stood in the way of supporting a potential rescue of BHS shortly before it fell into administration. “You couldn’t make a success of it and you didn’t want anyone else to,” he suggested.
Green didn’t take kindly to this and retorted: “That’s an insult; that’s really rude. It’s a sad way to end the meeting.” Sadly for Green he was swiftly informed by Wright that the meeting was not in fact ending.
5. Green has a wise doctor
Towards the end of the hearing, Green revealed he had earlier written something on his pad, “in case I forgot it,” and wanted to read it out. “Envy and jealousy, my doctor told me, are two incurable diseases,” was the crucial note he had earlier scribbled down.
He went on to say: “I have done nothing wrong…I have a very clear conscience”. Maybe he’s not so sorry after all.