The most recent owner of BHS has defended taking millions from the former high street giant’s accounts as a “dip in the ocean” while insisting he tried his best to save the ailing company.
Two-time bankrupt and former racing driver Dominic Chappell also accused his predecessor, Sir Phillip Green, of drawing huge amounts of money from BHS.
Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight – his first interview since the collapse of the high street icon in April – Chappell conceded he was a “chancer” who benefited from owning BHS, but denied the £2.6 million package which included a £600,000 salary contributed to its demise.
The demise of the retailer in April sparked an inquiry by MPs into the wherabouts of the company’s cash after 11,000 people were left out of work and a £571 million black hole in its pensions fund was discovered.
Chappell told Newsnight he “sincerely and utterly” apologised to BHS staff and insisted he had made every effort to save the ailing company.
“I took a big risk going in and it was a risk reward, we live in a risk reward society, that’s the way companies are built and fail. Did I take a lot of money out? Yes I did. But did the business fail because of the amount of money I took out? No it didn’t,” he said.
“This was just a drip in the ocean compared to the money that was needed to turn around BHS.
“What would I say to [BHS employees]? I sincerely and utterly apologise for you being out of work. It’s hideous. It did not need to happen. We did take money out of BHS but we certainly didn’t take nearly £1 billion out of it.”
During the inquiry – which is still ongoing – Chappell had told the committee of MPs that his efforts to save BHS were hindered by Green, who owned the retailer for 15 years until he sold it for just £1 last year.
Green, a billionaire whose retail empire includes Topshop, has been criticised for taking £400 million from BHS and then selling it to Chappell, who had no previous retail experience and had been declared bankrupt twice.
Chappell said had he not acquired BHS, the job losses would happened sooner.
He also insisted Green was “in for one thing and one thing only, to extract as much cash as a business as fast as possible”.
“We were the only people to stick our heads above the parapet and give it a go, otherwise [Sir Philip] would have liquidated that company,” Chappell said.
“We were the only people … prepared to really work hard to do that.”
Chappell also said fall of BHS and the resulting inquiy had “absolutely destroyed” his reputation.
“I think it is just important to know we haven’t just gone in, ripped the guts out of BHS and walked out,” he said.
“We had some very very big problems all the way through and we had the tide against us all the way, we had not one day that went past when we had some luck on our side.”