After the collapse into administration of 88-year-old High Street stalwart BHS earlier this week, people are trying to figure out who is to blame for a disaster that has left 11,000 jobs at risk.
Most fingers in the press and in Parliament are pointing squarely at two people: Sir Philip Green and Dominic Chappell.
The ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’
First, Sir Philip. Green is the billionaire boss of Arcadia, the retail chain that owns Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
Green bought BHS for £200 million in 2000 and reaped more than £400 million in dividends from the retailer as it ran up a £571 million pension plan deficit and debts of £1.3 billion. Then, last year, he sold the underperforming stores for just £1 to Retail Acquisitions, a company set up to do the job.
In a blistering piece over the weekend, the Mail on Sunday pointed out that Sir Philip is now taking delivery of his third luxury yacht, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions — just as 11,000 people now face losing their jobs.
Tory MP Richard Fuller called Green the “unacceptable face of capitalism” in a commons debate and Green is facing calls from Labour MP John Mann to give up his Knighthood unless he pays back the £400 million in dividends he took out of BHS, according to the Guardian. The huge pension deficit and debt BHS ran up is in part what has sent it under.
If Green could afford to pay himself, his family, and other shareholders so handsomely, why couldn’t he adequately look after the BHS pension scheme and the business?
When questioned by the Guardian over BHS’ finances as far back as 2003, Green told the paper: “You don’t know what the f*** you are reading. And nor does this Ian Griffiths [the former City editor and qualified auditor investigating the accounts]. You want to f****** sack him. You haven’t got a f****** clue. Do you want some lessons? Get in your car, come to my f****** office… You can’t read, you people. You shouldn’t be allowed to write f****** newspapers.” (The full transcript of conversations is here and is definitely worth reading.)
MPs are now set to question Green over the pension black hole. The Work and Pensions Committee on Tuesday launched an investigation into the impact of BHS’s failure on the Pension Protection
Fund (PPF), a state-sponsored fund that will now have to pick up the pieces and cover for BHS’ underfunded pension scheme.
Arcadia Group, Sir Philip’s company, was not immediately available for comment.
The ex-racing driver and bankrupt
But Sir Philip Green is not the only one facing criticism for BHS’ collapse. Pressure is mounting in the press on Dominic Chappell to explain his financial stewardship of BHS.
Chappell, a former racing driver who has twice been declared bankrupt, headed the group that bought BHS for £1 last year. The Times on Wednesday claims that at least one board member objected to a £1.5 million loan made by BHS to a company linked to Chappell’s father. The loan was then used to pay off the £1.3 million mortgage on Chappell’s father’s house, the Times alleges.
The same report also says there were “a number of rows at board level over how the proceeds of various property disposals were handled,” with BHS CEO Darren Topp leading objections to Retail Acquisitions taking a share of the proceeds.
The Guardian and the BBC are drawing attention to the movement of £1.5 million out of BHS last week by Chappell to an entity called BHS Sweden, apparently unconnected to BHS. The money was returned when the payment was discovered, minus £50,000 apparently for foreign exchange costs.
BHS paid more than £25 million to Retail Acquisitions, the vehicle that bought it for £1, in the 13 months leading up to its collapse, according to the Guardian. Retail Acquisitions is 90% owned by Chappell.
The Financial Times says Chappell was paid £1.5 million in salary and other fees during his tenure of the group. He told the FT that this is “in line [with] any executive director at a major retailer,” and said he paid £800,000 in professional and legal fees to undertake the acquisition, meaning his net gain was only £700,000.
For his part, Chappell has said “no one is to blame” for the collapse of BHS. However, other reports suggest he blames Sir Philip Green for leaving it in the state it was in.
Chappell was not immediately available for comment when contacted by BI over LinkedIn.
MPs are now calling for a full inquiry into the collapse of BHS.