New Look, new start

New Look, the fashion store chain that sells cheap fashion to teenage girls,
has announced its return to the markets with a flotation to raise £650m. It
means a stressful time for chief financial officer Alastair Miller.

What’s happened?

Having Kimberly Walsh, of top pop band Girls Aloud, open your flagship store
is supposed to be a moment to savour – a time to sit back, take stock and feel
you’ve achieved something. Unfortunately, for New Look’s FD, the opening of the
big Oxford Street store came just days after the company announced it was to
re-establish itself with the markets and float on the stock exchange. For
Miller, the impending IPO weighs heavily on the mind.

He was quoted in The Times saying: “Nobody’s found the last couple of days
comfortable.” No one will accuse of Miller of poker eyes after a statement like

But IPOs, especially ones intended to pay off debts and raise investment
capital, can be nervy moments in the development of a company.

New Look has been public before but went private back in 2004, netting the
executives at the time a healthy pay day. The board is different, though Miller
has history going back to 2000 when he joined the business as group FD. He has
since become CFO, but even a quick look at his biography reveals he has more
than compiling the accounts on his plate – IT, strategic planning, e-commerce
and the company secretariat all take their lead from the former management
consultant and Pricewaterhouse accountant.

That his role includes strategic planning and e-commerce is interesting,
because part of the reason for the £650m from investors is not only to pay down
the debt, but to also expand its online retailing business. New Look has
obviously seen the success players like Asos have made of selling clothes online
and want their share of the spoils.

That places Miller at the heart of the business. In fact, on the face of it,
he looks like he’s driving much of the decision-making.

What happens next?

Being at the centre of things means, when it all goes well, Miller will
receive the plaudits. In between now and then, the CFO’s desk could be the scene
of much nail biting as he awaits the launch of the IPO.

He’ll also have to meet the investors, explain the business model, justify
the numbers in the accounts and generally help convince everyone (and they
really do listen to the head of finance) that New Look is a good buy.

Combine that with Miller’s strategic position and you begin to see why his
rather candid admission about the board’s current discomfort is all too

But this will also just be the beginning of things. Once the investors are on
board, and the analysts are poring over the numbers, Miller and New Look will
have to deliver on the promised progress in a highly competitive arena.

The interesting thing is this, what does Miller do after this? If it all
works, surely he becomes great CEO material, if you’ll excuse the pun.

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