Donald MacDonald (Mac as he was known) headed up the John Lewis Contracts Departments in Oxford Street during its glory years. Hidden on the 4th Floor, behind Children’s Shoes, its unassuming position hid a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm. Leading from the front, he was an ‘old school’ manager, wanting his pound of flesh and not adverse to a bit of desk thumping to make his point. Behind this sometimes gruff exterior, was someone who had patience and a keen eye to spot potential in both personnel and business.
Many Partners stumbled into the department to find a hectic bustle of activity, where boundaries were blurred and opportunities endless. The department was initially set up to sell retail stock in bulk and at a discount. Under Mac’s guidance, it morphed into a whole new world. The years from the 60s to the 80s was a boom time for the department. New hotels, such as the Selfridge Hotel were refitted by the department, along with the Union Jack Club and casinos like the Ambassadors.
Local Councils built Civic Centres, which became our stock in trade and included Milton Keynes, Derby and Portsmouth. Mac was always up for a challenge and his high point must have been the European Bank in Luxembourg. Thousands of metres of woven British carpet were laid, plus the supply and fitting of specially woven curtain fabric made by Cavendish Textiles.
Well respected in the trade and with these links, he championed new ways of working, being on of the first to directly stick carpet and to promote the use of carpet tiles. Each project could be either a stand-alone one off, or with time, the client could return and become a regular.
Mac was fully aware it was very much a person to person business. If a client was happy and things went well, he stood back and let the Section Head and their team take the projects forward. Some of these working relationships lasted for years, especially the carpeting of other retailers, such as Dunn & Co and Liberty’s of Regent Street. However, the star at this point was Dixons and Currys – for decades the department was the sole supplier of flooring to this ever expanding retail empire.
Mac’s legacy is clear – a successful department, with an endless client list, but it had a more personal aspect – his management style allowed very junior staff to grow, take responsibility and even make mistakes. He could and would spot potential and know that with a bit of time, the investment would be worthwhile. Sadly, he also had to accept that this training process meant the department was fair game for ‘head hunters’. It is without exaggeration that during this time, there was not a commercial furnisher or carpet contractor that did not have at least one ex-John Lewis trained person on their team.
You could easily say there are countless numbers of workers within the trade and allied fields, who owe Mac a nod of gratitude in getting them started or giving them encouragement to get them where they are today!
Ex-John Lewis Contracts (1975-1997)