Less than a week after revelations about the financial future of Patisserie Valerie made headlines, executive chairman Luke Johnson gave an interview to the same newspaper where he regularly contributed a business column.
The move navigated some tricky reputational waters and a creeping narrative about British retail and high street horror stories. Chief among these risks is a suggestion that ‘suits’ make dodgy decisions with scant regard for the survival of popular chains and their staff – a suggestion that has taken hold, ever since Sir Philip reportedly sold BHS for a £1. Next up, is the narrative that says Britain’s high streets are being trampled by online shopping habits and then there are emotive pictures of shop doors closing with little or no explanation to customers. All make for great news fodder.
Instead, Johnson gave a behind the scenes tell all, describing the ‘most harrowing week’ of his life. He even confessed to writing a recent column headlined “A business beginner’s guide to tried and tested swindles”– a revelation which made the interview even more candid and no less compelling. You didn’t need to understand stocks, shares and bonds to read on.
He described his disbelief on discovering the extent of the financial troubles, the scramble to find finance, before stumping up from his personal fortune and then protracted negotiations to restore confidence among investors and within the company.
This interview approach is typically adopted by celebs caught in the act of tabloid indecency. But in this instance, Johnson projected the image of the experienced businessman caught off guard, fighting to protect jobs, customer expectation and still learning, decades into his career. The truth lies between the headlines, and any entrepreneur worth his stock will have ‘war-gamed’ the pros and cons of speaking to the national media with close advisors.
But it is refreshing to hear a business leader step to the fore, admit failings and concede there is still more to be done. And it could just prove the signature bake that keeps Pat Val customers coming through the doors in the months to come.