Lisa Wilkinson, the third-generation chairman and owner of Wilko, a UK DIY retailer, said she was “devastated” by the collapse of the family business.
Speaking in front of a UK parliamentary committee, the granddaughter of Wilko’s founder said she regretted letting down workers, suppliers and customers of the collapsed retailer.
It’s a pity, given Wilko’s good backstory—a family business founded in 1930 by James Kemsey Wilkinson, who opened the first shop in Leicester and grew it into a big and successful company, employing thousands
Specifically, she said: “I don’t know how to put into words how sad I am that we have let down all our customers, all our team members, our suppliers, our advisers genuinely”, adding: “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
The parliamentarians wanted an apology, and Wilkinson reluctantly gave one. But the optics could have looked a lot better, especially to the 12,000 workers at Wilko’s, many of whom have been made redundant.
Most would probably feel Wilkinson and other members of the family were woeful in the management of the business. The Wilkinson family took out dividends worth around £9 million from 2019 until it collapsed. Altogether, £77 million was paid to shareholders over ten years until its collapse.
Greed, whether real or perceived, has been the overriding concern of the third generation rather than seeing a business through tough times.
From a family business perspective, the collapse of Wilko looks like a classic case of the old adage from clogs to clogs in three generations.
Lisa Wilkinson needed to innovate and see the opportunities e-commerce presented an old-economy business like Wilko. She and the company’s other senior managers failed to see the demise of high-street shopping trends such as rising rents and falling footfall. They were unable to appreciate the competition. This failure list goes on.
It’s a pity, given Wilko’s good backstory—a family business founded in 1930 by James Kemsey Wilkinson, who opened the first shop in Leicester and grew it into a big and successful company, employing thousands.
He grew the business until he handed it over to his son Anthony Harwick Wilkinson, who built it up further to become a well-known high-street retailer. Anthony retired as chairman in 2005, after which his daughter took over the chairmanship.
Lisa bought out another side of the family from the business in 2014, and less than ten years later, the company went into receivership.
Yes, as Wilkinson pointed out at the parliamentary committee, other factors beyond the business’s control led to the company’s failure.
But the overriding feeling to observers is that Wilko’s failure came down to the mismanagement by the third generation.
The sad story of Wilko’s demise shows the “clogs to clogs” adage is as relevant today as it has ever been.