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Interview with Ian Cheshire (Part 1)

The head office of DIY chain Kingfisher is having a make-over. Out has gone the bland corporate reception and in comes a café-style garden table and vintage lamp shades. The canteen has been transformed with patterned wallpaper of bold pink flowers on a pale blue background.

Pointing to a “cool” display wall, which boasts products such as cushions and kitchen cupboard handles, Ian Cheshire, chief executive of the group that owns B&Q in the UK and Castorama in France, says it is there to show that “we are a home improvement retailer, and not a bank”.

Mr Cheshire, who later settles into a meeting room decorated with Kingfisher’s own-brand lime green paint and wallpaper designed by celebrity interior decorator Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, is no stranger to style. Having previously worked as group commercial director of Sears while it owned Selfridges and high street fashion chains such as Warehouse, Miss Selfridge and Wallis, he is well turned out and cites retailers such as Zara and New Look when discussing how B&Q is taking a “fast fashion” approach to bringing new trends into the home at good prices.

His makeover for the company’s range of products and its headquarters in Paddington, west London, has extended to “rebuilding and rewiring” the business to build future engines of growth.

Two and a half years into the job, the 50-year-old is able to move on from some of the radical restructuring he carried out on taking over, and look ahead. He had worked his way up the business over the previous 12 years, having joined from Sears in 1998. But instead of being captured by the system, he sought to challenge it, even as an internal candidate for the top job.

“I had what I consider to be the most fantastic preparation for this,” he says, “because I did M&A strategy to begin with, I ran e-commerce back in 2000, I then ran the international business. I even, for my sins, was temporary finance director for a while for group finance, and then after international I ran B&Q, the biggest chunk of the group.”

He is a company man, right down to his Kingfisher cufflinks. But he was prepared to show the company some tough love. Mr Cheshire says that three years ago the business had potential but no clear agenda. It lacked focus. “Historically, we had been this very decentralised conglomerate and I was going round the world running B&Q and I kept on saying, ‘This is the same business, we are fundamentally in the same business.’ So this idea that we’ve got a radically different customer in France to the UK . . . no, we don’t.”

Source : Andrea Felsted/Stefan Stern -

05 September 2010
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