Andy Street, the boss of John Lewis, must have had a sudden compulsive trait to think himself a natural comedian when he suddenly made what he now calls ‘light-hearted views and tongue-in-cheek’ remarks about France which he described as ‘finished’.
He made the controversial outburst after visiting Paris late last week, to pick up an international retail award.
Back in the safety of British soil he told a conference in London that France was ‘finished’.
‘You get on the Eurostar from something I can only describe as the squalor pit of Europe, Gare du Nord, and you get off at a modern forward-looking station, London St Pancras,’ he said. ‘I have never been to a country more ill at ease… Nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.’
The fifty-year-old Oxford graduate, who joined John Lewis from university thirty years ago, described the ‘plastic’ retail award given to the company in the French capital as ‘frankly revolting’, adding: ‘every time I see it I shall think God help France.’ He even said the food and drink in London was better than that he had been offered in Paris!
John Lewis, which will not take any action against Mr Street, was forced into damage limitation mode last week over fears of alienating French customers.
In the meantime, Mr Street had to grovel with an apology that came too late to prevent a furious response from the French embassy and prospective French customers who took to Twitter in their hundreds to accuse John Lewis of ‘French bashing’.
What a ridiculous fiasco from a managing director of an internationally respected store group to make such flippant remarks which are bound to cause offence and jeopardise the goodwill of many of his customers.
Some men become their own worst enemy when success goes to their head and arrogance takes over, as in the case at hand.
Even if what he’d said is partially true, and I do believe that France is on the brink of disaster, it still only goes to prove that his public relations ethos is retarded and subject to fluctuations of a perilous nature.
John Lewis should now ensure that their managing director is gagged and rebuked in no uncertain terms. They can ill-afford to have a loose cannon as their spokesman in a competitive era where charm offensive is the key to success.
And, by golly, he really boobed on this occasion – presumably to give reign to his overblown vanity.