Diagnosed with Parkinson's, still CEO
Title: Next to Me: Luck, Leadership and Living with Parkinson's
Author: David Jones
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey, 2006
ISBN: 978-1857883572, 288 pages
Review: Next to Me
By Rolf Dobelli, Chairman, getAbstract
David Jones, a leading executive in British mail-order fashion retailing, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1982, at age 39. In spite of that diagnosis, he remained a CEO of major companies for two decades.
Jones' interesting autobiography downplays his fight against Parkinson's and focuses on his compelling career. While he covers little of his personal life, he gives an honest, detailed account of an almost confusing number of people, companies, trends and power plays from his professional life.
The book is not chronological. Part I covers Jones' dramatic efforts to rescue NEXT from bankruptcy. Part II reports on his childhood and early career, and Part III covers his later years as CEO, as well as his illness and his philanthropy. getAbstract recommends this straightforward professional saga, despite wishing that its forthright, gutsy author had told it in order.
"Part I - 1986-1996: Rescuing NEXT"
David Jones rose through the ranks in mail order fashion retailing in the U.K. to become CEO of Grattan in 1981. At the time, its capital value was £25 million. By 1986, when it was acquired by NEXT, a major fashion retailer, its capital value was £350 million, a figure achieved after intense negotiations and stock maneuvering.
With the acquisition, Jones became NEXT's deputy CEO. At first he got along with its CEO, the colorful George Davies. But in the ensuing two years, the business climate and the firm changed substantially, due to both consumer shifts and burdensome acquisitions. By 1988, the men were barely speaking. As NEXT's fortunes dropped, the board ousted Davies. Jones became CEO, and spent most of 1989 and 1990, "just keeping the company afloat." Finally, he realized sadly, "If worst comes to worse, we could always sell Grattan."
To salvage NEXT, Grattan did have to be sold, and for at least £140 million. Sears offered £100 million to £115 million, but Jones told his mentor, NEXT board chairman David Wolfson, that he could get £140 million elsewhere. Although he had no immediate buyer, he has always believed that every problem has a solution. Brainstorming for an alternative, he recalled a man he met on a train ride: Ron Freeman, an executive with Salomon Bros. Digging out Freeman's business card, he recalled that Freeman knew Dr. Michael Otto, chairman of Otto Versand, a large German mail order firm. At Jones' request, Freeman called Otto with the news that Grattan was for sale, but had an offer on the table. Otto Versand bid £137.50 million. The Grattan team waited for David Wolfson to meet with Dr. Otto, hoping he could get the offer upped. After they met, Otto increased his offer to £142.50 million, sparking a bidding war with Sears. In the end, Otto paid £167.50 million for Grattan. Jones recalls, "The sale of Grattan was in many ways the most crucial event in my career and the most exciting three months of my 45 years in business."
Within four years of the cash infusion from that sale, Jones turned NEXT around, making more than £100 million in pretax profits. When he initially planned NEXT's restoration, Jones made a 10-page list. It was so overwhelming that he ripped it up. Instead, he set three goals: make the stores inviting, motivate the staff and return to the "original concept of good-quality, affordable clothes." He made each store accountable, sold 100 unproductive shops and made another 70 smaller. He combined the high fashion NEXT Collection and the basic NEXT Originals, offering fewer choices, trimming staff and improving warehouse operations...
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