Incoming Foyles c.e.o. Paul Currie has told The Bookseller his new role is "oozing with opportunity", with "much more work to be done."
Currie, a former Hamleys c.o.o. and Molton Brown retail executive, said he is ready to grow the Foyles business to “realise the potential of its brand” and, especially, to continue the work already started by his predecessor in turning Foyles into a truly experiential retailer.
Currie was appointed as the new c.e.o after it was revealed yesterday (27th January) that current boss Sam Husain was stepping down after eight years at the helm of the multi-award winning bookseller to retire on his 68th birthday (but remain on as a non-executive director of the company.)
Currie told The Bookseller: “If you look at the brand of Foyles and measure the brand equity against the perception of the brand, there is a lot of difference,". He added: “People think Foyles is a lot bigger than it actually is. There is real potential for Foyles to grow into that.”
He added: “I am a trader, I am a retailer at heart, I have only ever worked in the retail industry, my skills have been looking at different opportunities to grow. The (Foyles) business has made an amazing transformation, I’m not starting with a blank canvas, but on the canvas there is a massive landscape to fill and I see this as only at the start. I hope that what I can do with my retail and leadership skills is develop a business that can grow and realise the dream of the shareholders, which is a bookselling chain fit for the 21st century, both from a bricks and mortar and a digital perspective.
"There is more to be done with the two elements working together. There is more to be achieved working with publishers to really make Foyles into more experiential retailing, that is what makes it different from mass retailing. I am just oozing with opportunity.”
Currie began his career with store management positions at Marks and Spencer, rising through to managing the multi-regional European store development in France. His senior roles have included retailers such as River Island and Hamley's and he has acted as a consultant to a number of respected retail brands, including Cath Kidston and the White Company. Most recently he has acted as a strategy adviser to the executive chairman of Crabtree and Evelyn.
He said: “The most important thing for a c.e.o is understanding the business and the people that work for it, the talent, and then build a strategy around what you learn. I will listen, observe and view. Foyles is about the people and the legacy and about what the brand means to people.”
Under Currie, Hamleys became a retailer outside London and by the time he left the company it had stores in Dublin, Glasgow and one on the way in Manchester, so many would be forgiven for inferring the same type of expansion will be on the cards for Foyles. “It is about bottling that DNA, the things about Foyles that people love,” Currie said. While in retail, he confessed to being “a great fan of John Lewis”, in literature, his tastes are less mainstream. “I am looking at my library of books as I talk to you now and it contains more knowledge than fiction. I have a great passion for transport," Currie said. "I am a bit of an anorak, I have just read a great book about mapping the roads of Britain in the Roman times.” Currie reads on an e-reader as well as enjoying reading physical books, he revealed.
Outgoing c.e.o Sam Husain said he felt his greatest achievement was more about turning Foyles around, in making it less reliant on the flagship store and about harnessing the talent of its staff and establishing a management team. “The biggest challenges was the culture, breaking down the culture that was in the company when I arrived, “ he said. “I went back to developing the team and making sure they were improving.”
He said things had moved on substantially in terms of retail support from when he wrote an open letter in The Bookseller calling for publishers to offer bricks and mortar booksellers better margin on titles, as they often act as a showroom for books in 2013.
“Definitely things have moved on from then and publishers are now being more supportive of us,” Husain said. “The Books Are My Bag campaign is a great example of how publishers have got behind booksellers in a more general way.”
Before Foyles, Husain spent 13 years in the oil industry, which took him all over the world including regularly to Texas. He also worked in the broadcast industry, and runs consultancy company Hep Holdings Ltd, which has been going for 30 years.
“I will miss the people in publishing,” Husain said. “The day to day contact with people. At first I will have a rest, but in about six months or so I will be looking at some non-executive directorship positions and things like that. I want to keep myself involved.”