There’s a received (if not always accurate) wisdom in the sporting world that you should never go back to your old team in a bid to recapture former glories – think Kevin Keegan at Newcastle or Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool.
Not so in retail where you need only look at Malcolm Walker’s glorious return to Iceland in the mid noughties to see how a business’s fortunes can sometimes be inextricably linked with the presence of a certain individual.
Philip Bier is the latest retail leader to return to his old stomping ground, although in truth Bier has never really been away.
Bier left Flying Tiger Copenhagen in January this year after selling his and his wife and co-founder Emma Bier’s 50% stake in Tiger Retail, which operated Flying Tiger stores in London and the South East, to parent company Zebra.
Since then he has been working as a consultant, including to his former business, and has now returned as executive chairman of Flying Tiger’s company-owned operations in the UK, covering the South East, the North and Scotland.
Like Walker, Bier personifies the Tiger brand in the UK having opened its first store in Basingstoke in 2005 and subsequently grown the South East business into by far the largest of Flying Tiger’s UK operations.
Bier is a lesson in how you don’t always need a background in retail to succeed in the industry. He came to England to study photography at the London School of Printing and subsequently worked as a freelance photographer for 20 years. But after becoming acquainted with the Tiger brand in his native Denmark Bier felt as though the concept would be attractive to UK shoppers.
As it turned out he was correct, but not before he walked a tightrope for a number of years with money tight and Bier himself responsible for the majority of business functions including site acquisitions, finance and recruitment.
The Flying Tiger brand is now well established throughout the UK thanks in no small part to Bier’s efforts, albeit the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland territories are managed by separate companies.
In his new role, Bier will take on wider strategic responsibilities for the three separate UK retail divisions of Flying Tiger Copenhagen that Zebra owns. It seems a role well matched to his unrivalled knowledge of the UK brand and experience in scaling up operations.
I fully expect that in time we will come to categorise Bier’s second coming along with the Walkers of this world rather than the Keegans.