David Parkin on keeping good company

IF you are going to have a housewarming party, Robbie Williams isn’t a bad choice to provide the entertainment for your guests.

Even if he was the third choice.

That was one of the stories that emerged when I compered an event this week for Richard Cramer at law firm Front Row Legal.

A respected lawyer who specialises in sport, Richard has represented many high profile clients.

Back in the days when we were allowed to go to events, Richard hosted An Audience with Peter Ridsdale and by all accounts the former Leeds United chairman was an honest and funny speaker who attracted a capacity audience

Keen to continue with the events, despite lockdown, Richard persuaded Steve Parkin and Tony Mannix, the dynamic driving force behind Clipper Group to be guests for a question and answer session on Zoom and I was fortunate enough to be asked to host it.

The key for me was to make this online event as close to a live one as possible in terms of the audience experience.

It is easier to go off and do something else while you are watching an online event than if you are there sitting in the room.

So it was great that Steve and Tony had a wealth of interesting stories and wisdom to impart with enthusiasm and humour.

My job was to keep the event moving smoothly, ask questions that encouraged interesting answers and inject the odd humorous comment when appropriate.

We’ve all attended live events, never mind those online, which fail to engage the audience and have a host who should have stuck to their day job.

From the feedback received, I’m glad this wasn’t one of them.

Steve Parkin began his working life as trainee butcher, then went down his local coal mine in Middleton in Leeds as he could earn four times more.

Not impressed with that career move he became an HGV driver delivering fish from Scotland.

He was then offered a job transporting clothing in a transit van and wasn’t impressed with that because he had started driving big trucks after watching Yorkie adverts on TV when he was a youngster.

But the job meant a pay rise so he took it, promptly fell out with the boss and started up on his own to try to pay his mortgage.

Thirty years later and he is now the chairman of Clipper Group, a logistics business which deals with a host of major retailers including John Lewis, ASOS and Superdry, has 46 sites, 12,000 employees, 470 vehicles, a turnover of £650m and valued on the London Stock Exchange at around £560m.

Clipper’s chief executive Tony Mannix joined the business in 2006 and had trained as an architectural engineer before joining the graduate trainee scheme at Burton Group and then pursuing his passion for logistics at Homestyle, which owned bed retailer Bensons and furnishings chain Harveys.

They are a tight-knit team and together with finance director David Hodkin, they provide the flat management structure that has enabled Clipper to deliver phenomenal growth and have it on course to achieve Steve’s stated ambition of becoming a billion pound business.

It underlined one of Steve’s key lessons in business – “concentrate on your strengths and employ your weaknesses”.

I opened the event by explaining that despite our shared surname, I’m not related to Steve Parkin – which is disappointing for me but probably not for him.

Although I did admit I have benefited from mistaken identity in the past when Pino, the manager of much-missed Italian restaurant Brio in Leeds, thought I was the Parkin who was being linked with buying Leeds United and gave me the best table in the place.

I think when I attempted to put the champagne on Steve’s tab they worked out that I wasn’t the Parkin they thought I was.

Life has changed for all of us over the last 12 months and I was keen to find out how Clipper has changed.

Steve and Tony admitted that the retail shut down a year ago hit the business hard but given that a lot of their business is online, there was a rapid bounce back with the huge spike in online shopping.

When a call came from the Ministry of Defence in March last year asking if Clipper could help with the distribution of PPE to hospitals, the company mobilised quickly, displaying perfectly the phrase that Tony says is key to their business: “agility and ability”.

Steve said: “Within four days of getting the phone call we had a distribution network set up with 100 vehicles and 700 staff and 1.2 million square feet of warehousing.”

They are clearly proud of what they achieved and, after much negative publicity surrounding the Government’s PPE provision, it was good to hear about a positive.

Despite the boom in online shopping during the pandemic, it was interesting to hear both Steve and Tony explain why they think that bricks and mortar retail isn’t dead in the UK and is likely to undergo a renaissance.

Steve said that he believes the millennial generation have missed the experience of shopping – yes you can buy anything you like online but it isn’t a particularly fun thing to do.

Tony said retailers will have to adapt to offer the best of both worlds.

So if someone orders a dress online they can go and collect it within hours from a store in a city centre after they have been to the cinema for example.

They might have ordered it in two different sizes and so it is then down to staff in the shop to encourage them to try it on and show them other products that complement it, such as a jacket or pair of shoes.

They suggested I might order my suits like that in the future but I was quick to point out that my tailor James Michelsberg offers an unparalleled service.

Perhaps they couldn’t see it properly on Zoom, but the charcoal grey flannel number I was wearing for the seminar was particularly striking.

As I mentioned earlier, Steve Parkin has been linked with buying Leeds United several times.

Clipper now sponsor a stand and some of the kit and Steve clearly no longer harbours the ambition to own the club he has supported since he was a boy.

He revealed he had been seriously close to investing at Elland Road on three occasions but for various reasons, none of the deals happened.

The money that saved is probably the reason Steve has a new luxury yacht waiting in the South of France to enjoy after lockdown.

With the event moving to a close I was keen to ask Steve about his Robbie Williams story.

Fortunately he was happy to tell it.

“I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and when we bought our estate we decided to have a housewarming party.

“Unfortunately, Bruce won’t do private parties but his daughter is an international show jumper and he buys horses from Ireland. Long story but I ended up contacting him and he asked for a synopsis of my life which I sent through – an ex-mineworker who started a one-man business and built it up – and he replied to say he would do the party, for a lot of money obviously, but it was a dream come true to have Bruce playing on my front lawn.

“He was on a world tour and they put an extra date in on the Friday night and our party was the Saturday. He tried to change it and it didn’t work out so unfortunately he had to pull out.

That put us in a dilemma. My wife is a big fan of Prince. We went out and got him after what was the hardest negotiations I’ve ever been involved in – it took about three months.

“He was flying in from Cincinnati on a private jet and my helicopter was picking him up at Leeds Bradford Airport and bringing him to the house. He would perform, but we could only have one photograph and none of the people could go near him and as soon as he finished he was leaving.

“The lake at the front of my house was going to turn purple as he sang Purple Rain, it was going to be amazing.

“Eventually we signed contracts. A few days later I was in London doing my roadshow for the City and a friend of mine rang me to tell me Prince had died.

“So we had to go on the third option which was Robbie Williams. He called himself the sub of subs and he was absolutely amazing.

“We’re thinking of doing a Glastonbury this year David, you’ll have to come,” added Steve.

I said I’d be happy to bring my tent and pitch it on his lawn.


U ok hun?

It’s been a difficult week.

The news of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s divorce has really knocked me for six.

Coupled with Megan and Harry deciding not to return from California to royal life, I just don’t know what to do with myself.

To be honest I couldn’t care less about either of these stories.

It is showbiz tittle-tattle fine for the gossip columns but nothing more.

But it was another story that the BBC led their bulletins with that tested my jaded news judgement.

The reports of Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler who claims she was abducted while trying to flee the country aboard a private yacht in 2018 and is now being held “hostage” in a luxury palace.

The BBC breathlessly delivered this news but I couldn’t help thinking while I watched it: what about those who have had to endure much worse, who have suffered much more?

The recent coup and subsequent military crackdown in Myanmar is an example, as is the ongoing incarceration of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was sentenced to five years in jail in Iran in September 2016.

The rather pouty video messages on a mobile phone recorded in a gilded palace bathroom in the UAE by Princess Latifa Al Maktoum didn’t really suggest that here was a young woman in mortal danger.

Whenever I see an “exclusive” story on the BBC I remind myself that this is an organisation which has a record of flawed news judgement.

It ignored reporting about Jimmy Savile but threw the kitchen sink at covering a police search of Cliff Richard’s home and eventually had to apologise and pay damages.


APPARENTLY the historic Queens Hotel in Leeds is currently undergoing a £16m renovation and refurbishment programme.

Owner QHotels Group said the new-look City Square hotel, which is more than 80 years old, will be unveiled in the summer with plans for a “social hub” at the heart of the hotel and an outdoor terrace enabling it to offer “the best cocktail and dining experience in Leeds”.

I hope it is a great success, as the biggest and most prominent hotel in Leeds, the Queens has long needed a facelift.

I remember when £6m was spent on it in the early 2000s and it didn’t make much of a difference.

Hopefully this time it will be different.

Apparently there will be a new wine bar with an “outdoor terrace that spills out into the heart of the city”.

To be honest that’s been happening for years – usually after a Wooden Spoon charity lunch.

The Queens is an impressive building clad in Portland stone and fossils can be seen in the brickwork.

The last time I was in there were plenty in the bar too.

Have a great weekend.

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