A White Knight rides in...
I've come across a few people named Michael over the years, one of them was a certain Mr Knighton and a ‘character’ is just one way of describing him. When he arrived in Carlisle in the early 90s, the joke was that he’d bought the wrong United by mistake. Regardless, he was great fodder for us media folk with his big dreams of taking us back to the top in style, and on occasion, he even spoke to a few Aliens! He was gold dust for our sports phone-in.
Michael was never shy of meeting the fans either, holding numerous forums where I watched in amazement at his skill in holding a room with a gift of the gab. A dreamer perhaps and a nightmare for some but he was different, and someone to go along with just for the ride, even if many thought it was all the stuff of nonsense. What I do believe is that he believed in himself and you can't blame him for that.
While Knighton may have departed without many waving goodbye with all their fingers, another Michael might soon be driven through the streets in a shower of confetti. At a stroke, he is the saviour of the House of Fraser group and with it, the Carlisle store and many jobs to boot. Make no mistake, Mike Ashley is no Michael Knighton. For one thing, he shuns the limelight and has little interest in being popular or even being interviewed. The only similarity is his love of football with the purchase of Newcastle United probably one he now regrets. The fact that he saved the club from financial doom is not something that the fans care about or will even thank him for. Hey, that’s football!
Aside from the game, he’s the real deal in terms of business, way more successful than his closest competitors and far richer than those around him. To get to this point in life, he’s had to be a lot smarter than the average bear although his methods are often brought into question. That won’t matter to the people of Carlisle, Darlington or even Middlesbrough if he saves jobs and keeps the stores going. I doubt he's ever been here and probably never will so he will focus on the numbers without emotion and that one fact alone is why he's good news for the City. Ashley is a hard-nosed, profit-seeking, publicity-shy billionaire who can see an opportunity a mile off. He isn't interested in walking down Botchergate on a Saturday night to the applause of those he’s saved from the dole. Instead, he wants to make money by giving people what they want at a price they can afford, through a range of stores and brands he owns. He’s not only into discount shops, he’s into all levels - at all prices - knowing that the way to win is to offer products for all. To succeed in this plan, he needs a balanced high street and by keeping HoF alive, he achieves that goal. Each store protects each other.
That said, the reverse is also true. If the sites fail to deliver or the people fail to shop, he’ll close them in a heartbeat.
Carlisle is lucky that Ashley bought HoF so let's not tip our nose up just because we may not like the media image of his success. We have the people, product, service and yes, the location to make it all work. Most of all, he’s done what others wouldn’t do and put his money where his mouth is and will be praying he's made a good decision. Only time will tell if that's the case and I'm reminded of the following phrase:
Business goes where it's invited and stays where it's profitable!
Let’s help him achieve that goal because, in the end, we all win. I don't care if it turns out to be Harrods of the north or not, I just want a successful town centre born from 'a collective' of successful businesses, large and small, corporate and private. Good luck to the guy!