Stanfords’ managing director Tony Maher is to leave the travel business in March after five years at the helm, following a clash with the company’s board over its future direction.
The retailer has a flagship four-story store on the bustling Long Acre street in London’s Covent Garden, along with a shop in Bristol, but faces a tough decision about whether to remain in the location with lease up for renewal this September. Landlord Picton Capital is demanding more money for extending the lease, which will see the overheads for the business shoot up to over 60% since Maher first joined the retailer in 2013, The Bookseller understands.
Maher said: “This year (2018) marks Stanfords 165th year of trading – and the company is faced with the biggest decision that needs to be made in over 115 years: the lease comes up for renewal at its iconic London location in Covent Garden and the company is yet to make a decision regarding its future intentions.”
He continued: “I didn’t quite agree with the board’s ideas for the future way forward. It is for that reason that I decided to resign. Many of you who know me well would know that I am extremely passionate about what I do – and I felt that it would be wrong for me to lead a business in a direction that I didn’t agree with.”
Chairman of Stanford’s board Vivien Godfrey is assuming the role of executive chairman to lead the Stanford’s management team following Maher’s departure.
Neither Maher nor Godfrey would be drawn on what their differing views were for the future of the flagship store. Godfrey, a major shareholder who has been involved in Stanfords her whole life, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather who respectively held the position of chairman of the firm, told the Bookseller she would reveal the news "soon" once a decision had been made.
Maher listed some of the company's major achievements during his time at the bookseller as being the introduction of a new website, loyalty scheme and gift voucher scheme both online and instore, overhauling the brand identity, creating The Stanfords Travel Writers Festival, the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards and entering into brand licensing for the first time.
“None of these things would have been achieved without the full support of everyone in the Stanfords team,” Maher said. "I would like to wish every single one of the Stanfords team the very best for the future – It has been a pleasure and inspiration to work with them all – I will really miss 'Team Stanfords.' As well as that I feel a massive debt of gratitude to the great authors and publishers that we have worked with over the years – it has all been an absolute pleasure," he added.
When Maher joined the business in June 2013, it had losses of £418,000, which he reduced to just under £40,000 within 12 months. In 2015, the firm posted a profit of £27,191 though it dropped back to a profit of £5,000 on sales of £6.2m, up 2.3% from a year earlier.
Maher, an industry veteran of 35 years and son of Pentos boss Terry Maher, said the business had turned around by increasing the book and product range, bringing in more skilled staff, launching a new e-commerce operation and improving presentation.
Godfrey, who has also been the co-owner of Bluewater Books & Charts in Florida for the last 20 years and worked in senior executive roles for McKinsey and Company and Diageo, is currently based in the US, but plans to spend half of every month in the UK, increasing this from March onwards.
She said: “On behalf of the shareholders and employees of Stanfords I would like to thank Tony for the tremendous enthusiasm he has shown for Stanfords and for the job that he has done whilst with the company. Tony has been with Stanfords for five years and has built a strong and effective management team and together we have accomplished a great deal. One of his greatest successes has been the creation of the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival and Stanfords Travel Writers Awards.”
"I look forward to leading Stanfords," she added.
Maher can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.