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New Look goes back to the future

Jessica Brown

Retail is about product and people. Get away from either, let alone both, and business is bound to be derailed.

Retail is about product and people. Get away from either, let alone both, and business is bound to be derailed. So watching New Look’s once highly respected management get increasingly obsessed with the money men at the expense of retaining its status as best fast-fashion operator on the high street has been a soap opera of new proportions.

The departure of chief executive Carl McPhail this week came as a surprise. Although an ousting had been rumoured, McPhail’s recent carte blanche to make major changes to the buying, merchandising and design team looked to have bought him time. It seems crazy that those changes were allowed to go so far if he was never going to be the man to see them through.

First design director Barbara Horspool jumped ship to join Oasis, then buying director Roger Wightman was told to clear his desk. Horspool is virtually irreplaceable while Wightman’s experience as founder Tom Singh’s right-hand man during the early years gave him an unrivalled understanding of the chain’s raison d’être. Yes, mistakes have been made on pricing and fashionability of product but internal morale issues have contributed to those mistakes.

Singh, who was dramatically parachuted back in as interim executive chairman on Monday, is unlikely to be happy about the Wightman decision. He now faces the task of finding a new chief executive while getting to grips with the demoralised team dogged by internal politics. This is not the first time that the inspirational Singh has been forced out of “New Look retirement” to re-engage staff and suppliers. Singh claims to be a customer guy rather than a product guy, but in reality the two cannot be separated. He will look for both in McPhail’s replacement. What New Look needs now is a ‘Kate Bostock’ at the helm.

Jessica Brown Executive Editor

Readers' comments (2)

  • Absolute nonsense (as usual) from the Editor of Drapers.
    Tom Singh and his right hand man Wightman created a sensational business..they will put it right. Key word is 'created'.

    So called professional managers like Mr Mcphail, Barbara Horspool or for that matter, even Sir Stuart Rose, have not created anything and despite all your fawning over them, probably never will.
    Here's to entrepreneurs and down with the fashion press who are almost as clueless as the Managers!!

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  • Thanks for you comment. If you re-read the above, you will see I am agreeing with you entirely. My point is that Tom and Roger "the product and people men" are entirely the reason for successes of busnesses like New Look. You seem to have misinterpretted my perspective on the management team who tried to sell the business.

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