On first impression, Mary Homer’s decision to leave Topshop to become chief executive of The White Company is a curious one.
Homer will leave a retailer that generates over £1bn in sales and boasts over 300 stores in the UK alone for one that generates under £200m and has fewer than 50 standalone outlets. She will trade her position leading one of the UK’s most iconic retailers to head up a business that, whilst it has a loyal customer base, is fundamentally a relatively small player, despite having long since expanded out of its niche of selling designer-quality bed linen.
But scratch beneath the surface and there are numerous reasons why Homer and The White Company could be a good fit. Homer has spent 10 years as managing director of Topshop, Arcadia’s flagship brand, and a further 20 years working for Arcadia having joined as a merchandiser in 1985. As such she has huge experience of working in a hard-nosed trading environment where competition is intense and the pressure to deliver results year-in-year-out is immense. Whatever the reason for her departure – and perhaps it’s as straightforward a case as Homer wanting a fresh challenge – her wealth of retail acumen and strong fashion credentials will be of huge value to The White Company as it plots a path to future growth.
Homer also has experience of working under an entrepreneur in the shape of Sir Philip Green – indeed, she has long been considered one of his key lieutenants. And with The White Company’s founder Chrissie Rucker still actively involved in the business, Homer’s experience of working for Green will stand her in good stead as she teams up with Rucker to devise and deliver The White Company’s strategy.
Consider too the expertise Homer will have acquired driving Topshop’s successful international expansion in recent years. The White Company is right at the beginning of its overseas adventure having launched its first international website in the US in 2014; however the retailer is set to open its first physical US store in New York this summer and believes the US business could eventually grow to the same size as the UK one. Homer’s experience of growing a brand overseas will prove invaluable and will surely have been a major factor in her recruitment.
Homer is undoubtedly a loss to Arcadia and joins a recent list of departing executives that includes Burton managing director Wesley Taylor, Topshop retail director Craig McGregor and Miss Selfridge creative director Yasmin Yusuf.
The Topshop brand, however, remains a jewel in the UK’s retail crown and Green is surely right when he says the “phone will start ringing” with potential candidates as soon as news of the vacancy spreads.