In the Chain-Gang

A seven-year-itch has led Simon Turner to swap electronics manufacturer Philips for retailer Dixons Stores Group (MW April 1). At the end of this month, Turner leaves Philips after his second stint at the global electronics company, this time as the managing director of Philips UK Consumer Electronics. He will take up the new post of deputy managing director of Dixons computer chain PC World under managing director David Hamid. Turner has spent three-and-a-half years as managing director at Philips, but that adds up to a total of seven years this time around.

He refuses to comment on what the new job entails, which may indicate Dixons is planning something big. He is, after all, a restless character.

One senior colleague says: “He gets bored very easily. He likes the processes of working, but is also entrepreneurial. He finished reorganising the UK company in the middle of last year, we all knew that he was looking to move after that.”

Turner answers: “There is something to my wanting a change. A lot of studies show that after six years people are not as effective in their jobs. There is a period of learning, then growth, then consolidation, and then the seam is pretty much mined after that.”

Turner admits he was looking around at what was out there. But it was not so much a case of him picking retail as retail picking him. Dixons approached him with the job offer.

He said yes to one of the country’s most successful retailers, having never worked in the stores sector before. He explains: “There will be a steep learning curve. But I have a lot of experience of the goods it sells and the next few years will be an interesting time in information technology.”

A City analyst adds that poaching personnel from electronics manufacturing is a smart move by Dixons. “It is good to get someone from upstream on the manufacturers’ side. Turner knows what products are coming up in various markets years down the line and the kind of investment that has been put into them. When Dixons comes to negotiate prices for these goods it will be able to drive a hard bargain. And as one of the largest buyers of electrical goods in Europe it drives a hard bargain as it is,” he says.

Tough negotiators are the sort of executives Dixons prefers.

One UK-based Philips insider says of Turner: “He met or exceeded virtually all the targets he was set last year. He is good at getting what he wants, though the cost can be high.”

Turner says that the sales targets for Philips Consumer Electronics UK were up 35 per cent on 1997. This is a staggering feat considering that sales in the mature consumer electronics market have either been static or shown single digit growth for most of the decade.

Turner puts this success down to widescreen TV taking off in the UK and a rejuvenation of the company.

He explains: “We had to improve our quality of service from top to bottom. We were ruthless about cutting our factory costs but at the same time made sure the goods were being made to the highest specifications.”

The goals Turner set took precedence over everything else. One colleague says: “He has a ruthless streak in him. People who didn’t agree with the way he did things found themselves not only off his team but out of the company.”

Turner counters: “The task in hand has to be done. If that means some of ruthlessness with processes or people, I am prepared for that.”

In the late Seventies, Turner joined advertising agency Young & Rubicam as a planner, working on accounts as varied as office supplier Rank Xerox to airline British Midland. However, after only a year he joined Philips Audio in 1980 for his first stint with the company.

He joined the Dutch conglomerate as a market researcher, later rising to marketing manager for Philips Audio. He was involved in the launch of the compact disc.

One colleague says: “It must have been hard for him because he always liked to move very fast but the company back then was staid and complacent. It continually lost ground not only to Sony but to a host of Korean manufacturers, which made goods more cheaply. Few people realise how close Philips came to being broken up and sold off at the start of the Nineties.”

Turner grew tired of this drift and left the multinational company – which employs 225,000 across 60 countries – for the family-run UK oven manufacturer Belling, which had a single factory employing 1,100 people. In 1988, he joined as commercial director with a seat on the board.

He was brought in with a new management team to put the troubled company back on its feet. The new team cut costs but four years later it fell into receivership and was sold off.

Turner says: “Belling was very traditional and needed to change. We made those changes but saw that it still could not survive on its own. We recommended its owner, Richard Belling, sell it off. But he did not want to sell. I saw the company could not go any further and left. A few months later the company was forced to sell and it went for pretty close to the price we had originally wanted for it.”

Turner rejoined Philips in 1992 as senior vice- president of Philips Media Distribution for Europe, a manufacturer of entertainment software. This unit was sold off to the French software house Infogram for 20m, and in 1996 Turner was appointed the UK managing director of Philips Consumer Electronics.

Aged 46, Turner is married with two boys and a girl. He spends most of his spare time with his family – when not indulging in his other pursuit, coaching youth rugby in Newmarket, where he lives.

A colleague adds that occasionally this spare time is enforced. He explains: “Turner works himself into such a frenzy at times that he burns out and has to take a few days off with his family. He has a strange idea of what relaxing is anyway. He does one of those intense martial arts.”

Turner is a brown belt in Karate, but adds that he has not practised for several years.

However, he is gearing himself up for yet another challenge. He says: “A manufacturer’s cycle is monthly. But for retailers it is twice weekly. As a manufacturer you never have to look out of the window. But as a retailer you do because the weather affects your business.”

At DSG Turner will have less chance to throw his weight around, as the group is known for recruiting high calibre management.

However, Turner claims: “I’m looking forward to working with good people. If they challenge my ideas, and make me work harder then so be it.”

The City’s view is that Turner will, above all, have to maintain PC World’s market leading position. This will come under threat as computers become more of a commodity, and other low cost retailers enter the market. In the short term, however, there seems little to challenge the store’s dominance in that sector, which will leave an ambitious and restless man like Turner time to size up other posts in the DSG firmament.

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