Industry mourns death of ‘true gentleman’ who helped to steer Hobbs and Karen Millen to success
Former Hobbs chief executive Nick Samuel has been remembered by the industry as an innovator with tireless energy and a passion for retail.
Samuel, who died on Tuesday aged 58 following a battle with cancer, grew womenswear retailer Hobbs from a 30-store business in 2002 to more than 100 stores by the time he stepped down as chief executive in 2008. He took a non-executive director role for a further year.
Hobbs chief executive Nicky Dulieu, who was hired by Samuel as chief operating officer in 2007, said Samuel was “almost superhuman”. “He was the life and the soul of the party, able to network all night
or run 20 miles at the weekend, then be at his desk at 7.30am the next day, fresh and full of ideas for the business,” she said.
She added: “Nick really came alive in front of an audience. He could be reserved at work but after a couple of glasses of champagne he’d have the whole room hanging on his every word. He was very laid-back and well-liked.
“I remember at our annual sales conference he hadn’t prepared a speech, but he just strode up and addressed 250 people and had them all on the edge of their seats.”
Another of Samuel’s former colleagues, Mike Trotman, who was finance director at Hobbs before leaving in 2006 to join shirt retailer TM Lewin, remembered Samuel for his “fantastic sense of humour”.
“He would always break up tense situations with his dry wit,” said Trotman. “Nick provided my introduction to retail and gave me the foundation for everything I know and have implemented in my career since. He was always the last to leave a party and was the sort of guy everyone loved to have a drink with. We remained great friends after I left Hobbs and I’ll miss him dearly.”
Prior to joining Hobbs, Samuel was finance director for womenswear retailer Karen Millen.
Karen Millen co-founder Kevin Stanford said: “Nick will be remembered with such fondness by everyone who worked with him at Karen Millen. He was a real people person. It was a privilege to work with such a talented man and have a lot of fun together along the way. He will be so sadly missed.”
Aurora Fashions chief executive Derek Lovelock described Samuel as “one of the true gentlemen ofthe retail industry; modest, thoughtful, intelligent, articulate and immensely experienced. Thoroughly liked by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”
After leaving the Hobbs board last year, Samuel continued to keep his finger on the retail pulse with non-executive director roles at companies including outdoor retailer Blacks Leisure, cashmere brand N Peal and ethical etailer Ascension.
N Peal managing director Adam Holdsworth said Samuel “always had a twinkle in his eye, looking out for the next deal or opportunity”, and described him as “a man of considerable optimism and good humour”.
Outside work, Samuel was a keen sportsman who frequently encouraged his team to join him in running marathons for charities including the Retail Trust. According to his colleagues at Hobbs he always completed them in an impressive time, but would modestly refer to it as “three hours-something”. He ran his last marathon in 2007 in three hours 45 minutes.
Blacks chief executive Neil Gillis recalled an away day in February climbing a mountain in Scotland: “Nick was a bit older than us so we expected to leave him behind, but he was first to the top.”
Samuel was also a trustee of the Textile Industry Children’s Trust, whose chairman David Carter-Johnson said: “I saw Nick three weeks ago at his home and he was clearly suffering but his spirit was completely undiminished. That was typical of his determination and courage.
“In all the years I knew him I never heard him raise his voice, he got his point across without needing to - he commanded respect and when he spoke you listened.
“I never came across anyone who didn’t genuinely enjoy working for him, and you can’t say that about every successful retailer.”
Samuel is survived by his wife Helen and his children Ben and Hannah.