While Sir Philip Green’s 19,000 employees fear for their future as his Arcadia retail empire attempts to engineer a rescue deal, the Guardian tracked down the multimillionaire owner to tax-free Monaco where he is preparing to host a lavish party aboard his £100m superyacht during this weekend’s grand prix.
As Arcadia is facing a financial crisis – which in the best case scenario will lead to dozens of store closures and job cuts or in the worst case could spell the demise of the Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Wallis retail empire – Green has been nowhere to be seen in the UK.
The retail tycoon, who is chairman of the company and whose family own the business, has not set foot in Arcadia’s West End headquarters or any UK stores for at least six months.
Instead of meeting worried staff and shop landlords, to whom Arcadia owes hundreds of millions in rent, Green has been on a world tour (mostly) aboard his 90m (295ft) superyacht Lionheart and shedding the pounds at a weight-loss resort in Arizona.
With Green’s plan to save Arcadia unclear and thousands of staff fearing for their jobs and pension payments, the Guardian decided to try to track him down and ask him in person.
Firing up MarineTraffic, an app that tracks vessels including superyachts, we discovered that Green’s Lionheart had arrived in Monaco last week.
Lionheart is the largest boat in Port Hercule. The boat was hive of activity on Monday morning, with a small army of deckhands dressed in uniform black polo shirts busy plumping cushions and polishing handrails. But, there was no sign of Green.
We tried Green’s favourite lunch spot – the Café de Paris, next-door to the landmark 156-year-old Casino de Monte-Carlo. The waiting staff said they hadn’t seen him all week.
Just as we were about to give up and walk back along the promenade, my colleague James told me Green was steps behind me.
“Excuse me Sir Philip, my name is Rupert Neate, I’m a reporter from the Guardian have you got a second?” Dressed in a grey tracksuit, Green immediately spotted the Guardian’s camera. “Put that down, cancel that,” he said , then threatening to call the police and “unpleasant things” if we continued to film him.
The former billionaire repeatedly declined the opportunity to provide any reassurance to Arcadia’s employees about the future employment and pensions. He also failed to respond to any questions, including whether his family would hand back any of the more than £1.5bn they have extracted from the company in dividends and other payments over the years.
With Green storming off towards his luxury apartment, there was only time for one last question: Are you still a billionaire Sir Philip? There was no reply.
Following our encounter, Green motored his superyacht out of Monaco to the Italian riveria and his lieutenants in London set out a plan to try to save Arcadia from administration.
He has proposed closing 23 UK stores with the loss of 520 jobs. All 11 Topshops in the US – a venture he had intended to build into “a billion dollar business” – will close.
In addition, landlords to a further 194 stores are being asked to swallow hefty rent reductions. To persuade them to agree to the deal, Arcadia is offering the landlords a 20% share in the business – and has promised to invest £50m in revamping and improving stores. These details were first reported by the Guardian. They will also have access to £40m in compensation.
In addition, Green proposes restructuring Arcadia’s pension funds, which have a deficit of as much as £750m. It is proposed that Green’s wife, Tina Green, will pump in an additional £100m. Earlier this year Arcadia proposed cutting its contributions to the scheme in half, to £25m a year, as a cost cutting measure. Responding to Green’s rescue plan the Pensions Regulator said: “We do not consider the proposals are sufficient to ensure that members of the scheme are adequately protected.”
Arcadia has until 5 June to agree a deal with the majority of landlords, creditors and the Pension Regulator. If there’s no agreement Arcadia could face administration.