Jackie Burley is PA to Philip Newton, chief executive of Merchant Retail Group and chairman of The Perfume Shop

Philip put me through a lot to get this job. I had three interviews with him and one with the human resources director; I had to provide three written references; and I even put myself on a computer course (he said he wanted a computer whizz-kid for a PA). This went on for a month and I almost became obsessed by it - I've never been so determined to get something!

Philip put me through a lot to get this job. I had three interviews with him and one with the human resources director; I had to provide three written references; and I even put myself on a computer course (he said he wanted a computer whizz-kid for a PA). This went on for a month and I almost became obsessed by it - I've never been so determined to get something!

Merchant Retail Group has two trading subsidiaries - The Perfume Shop chain and our department stores. We own the four Joplings stores in the Midlands and the North-east, and A de Gruchy on Jersey. The Perfume Shop business has grown at a terrific rate. When I started in April 1999 there were 47 stores; by Christmas there will be 65. I feel very proud to be a part of it.

Philip has really turned the business around. He was a non-executive director when he joined in 1988. The business was going through significant difficulties and in 1990 he was asked to take full-time executive responsibility. At that time the share price was 10p; now it fluctuates between the high 50s and the low 70s.

He's great fun to work with. He has a wacky sense of humour and says he's "cool as beans" - whatever that means! Philip is unconventional and often sings loudly round the office. My smartest move of late was to buy him a guide to British hit singles. He loves flicking through it and setting us all pop quizzes. He's a big Watford FC supporter and he goes to every match he can. I know when they're doing well, because he'll say: "Guess where Watford are at the moment?" He wouldn't ask if they were plummeting down the league.

He dresses very casually, which struck me when I first saw him. He rarely wears a tie, and I think people find it refreshing that he's so approachable. He hates to be called "Mr Newton" and it took me a while to adapt to his style of letter writing. He used to cross out my "Further to our recent meeting..." and write instead, "Great to see you the other day..." He has two children, Ben and Libby, and they often phone me and say: "Jackie, could you just do me a little favour?" I tell Philip I'm glad he hasn't got any more. He laughs and says: "Could I get them adopted, do you think?"

What people may not realise is that he's incredibly organised. He writes articles regularly for Retail Week magazine, and he'll start several weeks in advance, so that if something crops up, he's already prepared. There are never any mad rushes with Philip, which I find amazing.

He's very caring and he encourages a people-centred environment. He knows his managers and the teams personally, and he likes to pick up the phone and have a chat with them. He'll call new store managers and ask them how they're getting on.

We're just putting together the final details for Philip's annual store tour. He visits every department store and Perfume Shop in the run-up to Christmas, and he'll do anything, including working alongside staff on the tills. He likes to see the business as one big team and it helps him understand what store managers face, and what customers' perceptions are.

Philip has his finger firmly on the pulse of the business. Even when he's on holiday in his beloved Barbados, he calls me every day to find out what's happening. It doesn't stress him out, though, because he's so laid back. He just likes to know.

He breeds and races horses and has an in-depth knowledge of racing. He has several horses with trainers in England, Ireland and the USA. One of our company days out was to watch his horse Variety race at Newbury. We were all screaming for Variety; she didn't win, but it was a great day.

Although Philip is great to work for, I do try to remind him at least once a week about the ordeal I went through to get the job. " Three interviews?" I say. But I haven't regretted it so far.

Comments