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Ever since I stumbled onto the travel retail scene way back in 1987, I have known a fellow Martin in the industry, a great bloke who has been with the business so long he seems part of its fabric.
I’m talking about World Duty Free Group Chief Commercial Officer Martin Petchey, who announced to industry colleagues this week that he is to leave the company at the end of January after four decades in the business.
In a note, Martin said: “After nearly 40 years of focusing my energies on this hugely enjoyable and fascinating business we call travel retail, I have decided it’s time to turn the page and devote myself to things new and very different from the commercial world I am used to.
“I feel very privileged to have worked with so many wonderful, talented and committed people over the years and have learned so much and had a lot of fun at the same time.”
I met Martin in what seems another lifetime, during his 18-year career with Allders International (ok then, hands up, how many of you remember the name? At the time, let me tell you, Allders International, led by one Harvey Lipsith, was the second-most powerful duty free retailer on the planet). As Allders morphed into The Nuance Group (well, Nuance Global Traders to start with), Martin moved to Alpha Retail (hands up again, who remembers them?) in 1996, memorably helping to establish the UK retailer’s business in Sri Lanka and the USA.
Now pay careful attention, because I’m going to test you on this later… Alpha was later acquired by Autogrill, which also acquired Aldeasa and World Duty Free before the integrated sum of the retailing parts (now known as World Duty Free Group) was acquired by the company that had bought The Nuance Group formerly known as Allders International – Dufry, previously known as Weitnauer (hands up again… anyone remember Weitnauer?) when both Martins entered the business. Phew!
Martin probably went through more reshuffles than a dealer at the World Poker Championships but generally survived, professionalism, integrity and, not least, dry wit intact. I suspect that was down to the fact that amid all the corporate turmoil and oft-time madness, his was always a voice of reason, experience and commonsense.
But I’ll close with another anecdote that says much more about my namesake. Through 2010 and much of 2011 when I was struggling to see anything other than bleakness through chemo-fog, Martin not only constantly checked up on me with the kindest of words (and sometimes stern ones when he thought I was overdoing it) but also decided that laughter was the best medicine.
He would supply this in regular doses of Tommy Cooper, knowing our shared love for the great British stand-up comic (“By the way,” Martin wrote to me mid-illness, “I bought some Velcro the other day – what a rip-off…”).
I remember chuckling away while being hooked up to a drip at the Royal Marsden Hospital and one of the nurses inquiring what was so funny (you’ll understand that while a wonderful institution it was not renowned for its levity). I simply pointed to the cover of ‘The Tommy Cooper Joke Book’ provided by Martin to get me through the low moments of treatment (on hearing of my diagnosis, he wrote, “Anyone that can appreciate Tommy Cooper has more than a 99% chance of survival in my view – so dig in my friend and all will be well!”)
As indeed it was. So this time for the other Martin’s benefit, I’ll repeat a couple of gems from the maestro…
Patient: “Doctor, I have broken my arm in several places.”
Doctor: “Well you shouldn’t go to those places…”
The doctor examined the patient and said: “You will live to be 70.” The patient replied: “I am 70!” The doctor said: “What did I tell you!!?”
Oh and for all of those who remembered who Allders, Alpha and Weitnauer were, which puts you in the Tommy Cooper generation, here are two more to close…
- “I backed a horse today at 20 to 1. He came in at 20 past 4.”
2. I took saxophone lessons for six months. Until I dislocated my jaw. How did I know I was supposed to blow in the small end?
Ok, sorry I can’t stop myself…. a couple of travel retail exclusives (sorry Tommy) for a true travel retail exclusive himself…
- Martin Petchey was doing a store check at World Duty Free Heathrow and saw two female and male staff wrapped in a barcode. He said “Are you two an item?”
2. Sometimes Martin drinks his duty free gin neat. Other times he take his tie off and leaves his shirt out.
My fellow Martin, you may feel very privileged to have worked with so many wonderful, talented and committed people over the years. Let me tell you there’s a whole lot more who feel very privileged to have worked with you.