• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography | Citizenship | PSHE

‘Mr Greedy’ and the downfall of a tycoon

Is Philip Green a villain or a scapegoat? The Topshop boss is under fire for living it up while his employees lose their jobs – but isn’t a rotten society just as much to blame as he is? At 3pm on 25 April 2016, 11,000 people lost their jobs, wiped out in an instant by the collapse of the department store chain BHS. Worse news was to follow: the company’s pension fund was £571m in debt. Twenty thousand people had lost their pensions. As the dust settled around the implosion of one of the High Street’s biggest employers, one man was found holding the detonator: Sir Philip Green. The former owner had ditched the company in 2015, selling it on for just £1. Now, Green faces another blow to his reputation. Arcadia finally collapsed last night. The group is owned by Green’s family and includes big high street names like Topshop. Around 13,000 jobs are at risk. Yet while his workers, most of whom have already been on furlough for months, face a cash-strapped Christmas, Green is reportedly booked in for a festive break in the Maldives at a resort charging £30,000 a night for some of its villas. With his flamboyant lifestyle and extravagant expenses, Green has long served as a symbol of the worst excesses of capitalism. He owns no fewer than three yachts, and his 55th birthday party – featuring performances by George Michael and Jennifer Lopez – is thought to have cost around £20m. In spite of his vast wealth, at the beginning of the pandemic he immediately furloughed most of his employees, letting the taxpayer pay their wages, while he retreated to his boat, Lionheart. Some have criticised him for not contributing any of his own money to support them. He has also faced allegations of sexual harassment and racism. Two former female employees received large settlements after claiming that Green had put one of his workers in a headlock. But there is another side of the story. Less than twenty years ago, Green was hailed as a great entrepreneur – even the “king of the High Street”. His defenders claim that he is the image of a self-made man. He left school at 15, became an apprentice in a shoe warehouse, and set up his first business aged just 23 – albeit with a large loan from his wealthy family. As a businessman he seemed to have the Midas touch, buying up fading High Street chains and turning them, one by one, into big earners. Some argue that Green did exactly what our capitalist society has always told people is right: work hard, build a business and enjoy the fruits of your labours. Now, they suggest, this same society is turning on Green because it would prefer not to confront the greed and selfishness that it has fostered. By turning Green into a scapegoat, we can pretend that problems in business are caused by a few bad apples, and not an entire system that encourages greed. In reality, they insist, Green is only a reflection of a society that has lost its soul. And it prefers to attack that reflection, rather than take a hard look at itself. So, is he a villain or a scapegoat? Rub of the green Guilty as charged, say some. He has pursued wealth at the cost of everything else, and squandered it on extravagances while his workers lose their livelihoods. He has been accused of harassing and abusing those who work with him. He takes no responsibility for his actions, and refuses to let others hold him to account. He has exaggerated a “self-made man” image belied by his wealthy upbringing. A fall guy for capitalism, say others. However repulsive Green’s actions are, thousands of others get away with worse every day. We have a culture and a government that encourages people to look out for themselves at the expense of everyone else. Therefore it is self-serving of us to criticise Green while ignoring the part we all play in promoting behaviour such as his. KeywordsCapitalism - A form of economy characterised by private property and competition between companies.

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