Nigel Oddy’s appointment as chief executive of The Range has surprised some commentators – and understandably so.
Oddy is a consummate retail professional having spent over 20 years with M&S and the past decade in director-level roles at House of Fraser. These are slick, corporate operations, and a world away from The Range which despite its size maintains a reputation as being one man’s private fiefdom.
That man is Chris Dawson, The Range’s founder and still its beating heart and soul.
Dawson is the polar opposite of a corporate man. He is self-made, gregarious, spontaneous and, by his own admission, a little rough around the edges.
The appointment of Oddy is being interpreted as a move to bring a greater professionalism to what is clearly an exceptional, and profitable, business, perhaps with the intention of positioning The Range for a stock market listing in the near future.
The best case scenario is that Oddy, with his extensive network of City contacts and polished demeanour, provides the stability and leadership to complement Dawson’s flair and knowledge of his business.
There’s every reason to believe this will prove to be the case. Oddy is a smart man who will have done his homework on the business he is about to join as well as its colourful owner and will surely have drawn some lines in the sand to ensure his authority is not undermined.
Naturally, there will always be disagreements in relationships where an individual feels such a deep sense of ownership of a business, but such problems are not insurmountable so long as all parties are working towards the same goals.
It would be foolish, however, not to acknowledge the risks in the new arrangement, which will see Dawson work closely alongside his new chief executive rather than take a backseat.
Dawson is known for his authoritarian and bombastic leadership style and will need to rein in his natural instinct to take charge of the situation. A power struggle at the top of The Range will ultimately be to the detriment of the entire business and both men will need to make allowances to accommodate the other’s preferred style of doing business if the partnership is to work.
But the incentive to make it work is strong. Oddy, for whom disagreements with House of Fraser owner Sanpower reportedly contributed to his departure, will not want a similar situation to unfold at The Range, and if Dawson has genuine ambitions to take the business public he will need Oddy’s skills of diplomacy to smooth the path to floatation.
Sometimes odd couples work well together because what unites them is greater than what divides them. Oddy and Dawson may not be a match made in heaven, but who cares, so long as they can find a way of making the relationship work for the greater good.