The multi-billionaire Topman owner gives us his top 10 rules for career success
Never leave your comfort zone
I’ve never invested in something I don’t completely understand. I get offered 60 new projects a week, but 50 of them go in the bin because I’ve got enough to do with the businesses I’m already involved in. That way I can maintain my focus, energy and time on my current priorities.
I’m always looking to reinvent the wheel, to find new ways to improve my business. You’ve got to keep evolving, and to do that you’ve got to keep your mind open to new ways of working.
I have a lot of exposure in the market I’m in, which comes with a lot of responsibility. I’ve got 45,000 people working for me. So if you dive into something for the wrong reasons, you’re not only exposing yourself but the people who work for you, their livelihoods and all their families. Push the boat out, but not for the wrong reasons.
Always go with your gut instinct
When they invent something better than gut instinct, I’ll use it. But until then, I’ll use my intuition to steer me in the right direction. Every single business I’ve bought and then turned into a success, experts originally told me to do otherwise. But I can look at six items and tell you, ‘That blouse and those sweaters will sell.’ You just instinctively know.
Accept that not everyone will agree with you
There’s an old expression: two views make a market. Which means you may think one thing, while someone else out there might think completely differently about the same thing. But never let that put you off.
Build very strong relationships with the people that matter
I’ve been working with the same lawyers and bankers for the past 15 years. I was 20 when I first started selling designer clothes from the Far East, but suppliers never tried to take liberties with me because of my age. I realised back then that life’s about fostering strong relationships.
You’ve never ‘made it’
I start work at around 6.30 every morning and I’m still on the phone to the US till midnight, but that’s because I’m so focused. But there was never a turning point where I thought, ‘Okay, I’m a success.’ I still don’t think I’m doing that well now.
Sometimes good things just happen
I bumped into Kate Moss in The Dorchester a few years ago. We spoke for about 60 seconds about how good it’d be to work together on a range at Topshop, and then we went into business. It sounded like a good idea, so we went from there.
Have short, punctual meetings only
I like quick, focused meetings with people who have the power within my business to make important decisions and then act upon them.
Don’t make employees feel threatened
Create an environment where they’re not on edge, then build relationships that motivate them to do a better job. Because then hopefully, as a boss, you’ll make more money. If they’ve got a good idea, I buy into it. If it’s crap, I tell them to get lost. There’s no grey area as far as I’m concerned.
SHOE IMPORTER, MARTIN GARINDER. “I left school at 16 and worked here for five years.”
DESIGNER CLOTHES IMPORTER. “I bought some bust outlets’ stock, sent it all to the dry cleaners, got it put on nice hangers then flogged it.”
OWNER, JEAN JEANNIE. “I was 33, and after making it a successful business I sold it off for £9 million.”
Ceo, AMBER DAY (clothing manufacturer)
OWNER, PARKER AND FRANKS. “I was now learning to buy whole companies rather than individual shares in companies.”
OWNER, OWEN OWEN and LEWIS. “I haven’t got a clue why I bought it, other than it was cheap. I was happy enough with the profit I made.”
BHS. “I didn’t do extreme research before I bought it; I just visited two Bhs stores.”
ARCADIA GROUP (Topshop, Topman, Burton…). “I bought the company without examining the small print. I just went with my gut instincts and it hasn’t worked out too badly.”
Knighted BY THE QUEEN. “It was for services to the retail industry. There’s no better accolade than being recognised for being the best at what you do for a living.”