Devoting almost 30 years of his life to Ted Baker, one of the UK’s foremost global fashion brands, co-founder Chris Browne resigned as Global Retail Director in 2017, shifting his professional focus to consulting based on his tremendous retail expertise. While in no way having an intentional entry into the world of retail, Chris soon realized in his very first retail job that he was cut out for the industry. It should come as no surprise that upon leaving, he was able to endow Ted Baker with a valuation of £ 1.6 billion.
The Edge had the pleasure of chatting with Browne, gleaning nuggets of experience from the retail titan.
To what do you owe your professional success?
I always did more than I was asked to do in any situation. I try and think, “What else can I add to this?” And I realized very early on, if you don’t treat your job as a job, and you treat it as more of a vocation — something you’re enjoying doing — you get more out of it. That’s my mantra that runs through my career.
Most people fall into [the retail industry]. They don’t go into it. [In] my first week of my retail career, [I] got promoted, straight away, from full-timer to sales to assistant manager. I just thought if I’m going to be a retailer, I’m literally going to try to be the best retailer on the planet. I’m going to see who my rivals are. I’m going to work out strategies for beating them. And I took that into every future role.
There’s a clichéd line: find out what you love doing and get someone to pay you for doing it. That line is something that I didn’t even realize [but] when I heard the phrase 20 years after my career started, I thought, “Well, I did [find] that thing.”
What are some outdated methods of thinking that many entrepreneurs still use to run their businesses?
I think that the number one [is the] outmoded method of treating people, which is the “sweet and the stick” mentality — the idea that you motivate people with the threat of anger on behalf of the boss or some sort of punishment for the employee, and then equally too much sugar. What you actually have to appeal to is people’s own sense of responsibility, [the] desire for them to provide for their families and to do well for themselves personally, and their own ego.
[People also] need an experience that they’ve been sold the dream. I would say [in] my old business, Ted Baker, we got to a pretty high level of satisfaction. [It] might’ve been 85 [to] 90 per cent of the time that we delivered the dream. It’s just so important that the brand experience somebody gets isn’t just what you write on the card or a piece of paper or corporate strategy, [but] it’s actually delivered by the individuals in the store.
I have this very simple phrase I use: trust the people. You have to develop a culture where it’s exciting to be there, where it’s fun to come to work, where you feel you’re being developed. I, a million per cent, believe in training and developing people, developing the human spirit.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs on finding the balance between their lives and work?
[A] cliché phrase [I believe in is] to wake up and smell the roses. Don’t just travel through life and not celebrate. I was big on celebrating our successes. If you’re always striving for the next thing, you’ve got to celebrate and enjoy now. So, when I feel like spending, I spend freely, and I know I look after my money, and I accumulate it, but […] I’m not acquisitive.
You get these people [who] like to buy the latest car or the latest boat or whatever. None of that interests me, but I do invest in great things. I’ll go on great holidays and spend the money on great food and wines. I don’t want to get to a hundred with all this money and no experiences and no fun. […] I think in life, you should get out there.
Which part of running a business would you say you have had the most difficulty in?
[That’s] fairly easy to answer — conflict with all the other directors. I used to often be a lone voice. This doesn’t mean [that I’m] difficult. [Ray] Kelvin was the founder of Ted Baker. He used to say to me that I was difficult because I didn’t always agree with whatever the general opinion was.
[To my colleagues] I’d be like, “You have to have the courage of your convictions in business and life.” I’m not stupid. I’ll shut up on some occasions. [But] what happens when you were in a situation where a powerful CEO tells you something [that is] really dumb? I used to battle with that. So, I battled with [Kelvin], and I battled with my fellow directors sometimes.
You know, I met Steve Jobs once, years ago. He was in town in Dallas [Texas], and they were opening a store about 13 or 14 years ago. [He wanted to see one of the bosses of Ted Baker], so I went in to see him. The guys in the store said, “Oh, he’s busy. You can’t come in.” And I said, “Well, I’m busy too. Can you just say that when he’s free, I can come back around again?”
So, I go in at 4:30 pm, and I can see, he’s in the corner of the Apple store pointing up at the ceiling and he [had his] back to me. And I said, “Oh, hi, Steve. It’s Chris from Ted Baker.” He held his hand out [without looking at me], so I didn’t shake it. I just went, “A simple courtesy is to look at me when I’m shaking your hand.” So, I shook his hand then.
And he went, “Oh, you’re very good.” I said, “Steve, I’m not being rude.” I said, “Well, should we have a quick chat?” And he started laughing. We managed to have quite a good chat about my stores, his store, but it wasn’t a great inspirational meeting. I actually thought, “You need some lessons in conduct and how to behave and how to counter, [and] how to connect with people.” But it was an amazing context because I’m telling you [to] stand your ground. I stood my ground with him.
The Edge Staff