“I could not have bought what I’ve got from him,” comments Riley, who floated his Lancashire-based telecoms business on AIM last month.
“He has spent an inordinate amount of time with me over the past two years. I probably speak to him, on average, every other week. When we were floating Daisy Communications, I saw him nearly every day. I’m an extremely enthusiastic and energetic person and yet this guy just puts me to shame. He’s forgotten more about business than I know.”
Riley says he’s learned two crucial lessons from the Topshop billionaire. First, keep a flat management structure. “As you grow, you tend to put more and more layers in between you and the people that are going to make all the difference. You must always have a finger on the pulse of your business, no matter what size it is.”
Second, be a master of detail. “They always say the great retailers are all about detail. And Sir Philip is. He will know the price to the pence – and I do mean pence – of any item Topshop has bought. And he’ll also know what it should be retailing at.”
Sir Philip also introduced Riley to the notoriously private Kate Moss, who is helping the retailer launch a second Topshop in New York. “She was having a fag and a coffee,” says Riley. “We chatted to her for an hour. I always thought, ‘She’s just a model’ but make no mistake, she’s a very clever businesswoman. You wouldn’t believe the drive and ambition that lady’s got.”
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