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The only one who could ever reach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
The only boy who could ever teach me,
Was the son of a preacher man,
Yes he was, he was, oh yes he was.
I don’t often start my Blogs with Dusty Springfield songs but then the travel retail industry does not often bid farewell to executives who are indeed sons of preachers.
Paul Topping is. And in that sense the Alpha Asia President may be a genuine duty free exclusive. He is in other ways too and his resignation from Alpha Asia– announced earlier today – marks the departure of one of the industry’s most colourful and charismatic characters.
Paul has been with Alpha through its various incarnations over two decades, the last ten or so in Sri Lanka where he created Alpha Orient Lanka and took the UK retailer into India. Sri Lanka has been a long-running success story though India was a more difficult route.
In Cochin, Paul turned from Son of a Preacher Man to King Kreol as the Alpha Kreol joint venture, trading as Cochin Duty Free, became India’s first duty free success story. When the alliance started trading in 2002 the average spend per passenger was a meagre US$1.99. By 2007 that indicator had risen to US$5.00 and average transaction had reached an impressive US$37.95. Critically, too, penetration doubled from 2002 to 2007 to 13.7%.
The duty free contract at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi proved far more problematic, turning into a seemingly endless round of contract renegotiations amid intensely frustrating trading conditions.
But as we noted when reporting his departure, Paul’s greatest achievement came with the creation of the Alpha Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief Fund, following the tragedy of the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004.
Together with his close pal and industry associate Rakhita Jayawardena (below), he drove an extraordinary industry initiative that created a new, inland village for the inhabitants of Palliyawatta, a small coastal community that had been wiped out by the tsunami.
There was certainly more than the touch of the evangelist about Paul’s pleas at various industry gatherings for the industry to Support the Alpha/Jayawardena initiative.
Remarkably, and from an industry with little heritage to that point of collective Corporate Social Responsibility, the pair drove an unprecedented outflowing of industry generosity, culminating in the inauguration of the Travel Retail Village on 16 March 2006, less than 15 months after the tragedy.
The Alpha/Topping/Jayawardena approach also provided valuable learnings for another pan-industry humanitarian effort – Hand in Hand for Haiti – several years on. Two individuals showed what can be done when an industry spirit is encouraged and harnessed.
What’s next for the Son of a Preacher Man? Word reaches The Moodie Blog that he is turning his attention simultaneously to two of his great loves – India and Wine.
Another vintage Topping offering may be on the horizon.