David Clapham really wanted to get into the Alldays driving seat. Julian Hunt meets a bit of a perfectionist' Speed freak is not a phrase you would readily associate with David Clapham. On first impressions, he just doesn't come over as the kind of guy who would get a thrill from racing along at 100mph. So it's really surprising to find Alldays' new retail md lists motor racing as one of his great passions and even more of an eye opener to learn that he has built a sports car from scratch in his garage. Quiz Clapham further about his car building exploits and you get an intriguing insight into what really makes him tick. He thinks hard about his answer, admits he has hardly driven the thing since building it more than a decade ago, and then adds: "I wanted to prove I could do it...I found building it a challenge...I'm a bit of a perfectionist." And when the headhunters came calling, Clapham took the job at Alldays for very similar reasons ­ he clearly felt he had something to prove. He was excited at the thought of rebuilding the business, and the whole project clearly appealed to his meticulous streak. All in all, the job was "right up his street". But before exploring Clapham's plans for Alldays, it's well worth slipping into reverse and looking at how he found himself back on the job market last May after a career spent entirely with Sainsbury. Clapham's flair for food retailing shouts out from the pages of a hugely impressive CV. He started on the shopfloor of the supermarket chain in 1964 as a trainee manager and rose through the ranks to join the group board in 1992. On his way to the top, Clapham worked as PA to the formidable Sir John Sainsbury during the company's flotation, became the company's youngest ever regional director and had a stint as md of Savacentre. In his last role as main board director in charge of special business units and services, Clapham sorted out Sainsbury's petrol business, restored its restaurants business to profitability, launched the SAVE scheme for village stores and got his first taste of the convenience sector by developing the company's Local concept and defining its c-store strategy. It's clear Clapham got a big buzz out of Local and he admits to being disappointed that his departure from Sainsbury meant he could not see the project through to a more logical conclusion. But that's about as far as Clapham will go when asked about his former employer. Officially, he retired from the business last April following a restructuring and streamlining of the Sainsbury group board. And whatever arguments or discussions precipitated that decision, Clapham even now remains fiercely loyal to Sainsbury and is still highly sensitive about saying anything that could be construed as being critical of the company. "I gave 35 years of my life to Sainsbury and I was set for 40 years. That was what I wanted. I was totally committed to the business," says Clapham today. "But when companies make change, decisions have to be made and I decided not to carry on working there. It was a wrench. But I was not going to stick around with what was going on. So I decided to part company with them." He spent the next few months honing his CV and going for interviews before being approached by Alldays. Clapham thought carefully before accepting the job. Not because he didn't think he could do it, but because it would mean moving away from Bromley and his family. At 53, he had to decide whether the time was right to up sticks to embark on a second career. It was a big decision for a family man. But Clapham says he has always strived to get the right balance between work and his personal life. And he really wanted the Alldays job. The solution was to take a flat near the c-store chain's hq in Eastleigh, where he now spends part of his week, with the rest spent at the family home in south London. It was important, says Clapham, to show this level of commitment to the embattled and demoralised folk in Alldays' head office. Commitment, teamwork, loyalty, openness and integrity are some of the recurrent themes of our discussion. Clapham says they are important aspects of his modus operandi ­ and it's clear he wants to see these traits in the people who work around him. Since jumping into the driving seat, last November, Clapham has been spreading the word through a series of meetings with staff working in central and regional functions and through touring stores. As well as outlining what he expects from people ­ and what they can expect from him ­ Clapham has talked about the challenges the business faces. Challenges such as the need to put customers first, why it should foster the best possible team culture and how it can always keep things simple. He will be majoring on the last point: "Shopkeeping is a simple business. Big organisations complicate it too much. This organisation grew through an innovative and clever method but did not control its growth as well as it should have done." Alldays also lost sight of what it was trying to do, he claims: "The company's mission statement is We aim to be the customers first choice for convenience and top up shopping within each store's trading area'. That mission was there when they created the brand but was left on the shelf while they grew. If they had delivered the mission statement and shareholder value, they would have had a fantastic business." Clapham's turnaround strategy is focused on how best to dust off that mission statement, sort out the nitty gritty at store level and cope with the complexities caused by buying out the Alldays franchisees. Clapham clearly enjoys this side of his new job, and as a self confessed foodie he is over the moon at being back in the rough and tumble of grocery. He says his strategy is all about trying to get costs under control, while making sure the range is delivering, the shelves are full and the stores are tidy. He is also keen to change the culture of the company so it no longer has a "policing infrastructure" and instead actively encourages its people to think of new ways of developing the business and better meeting the needs of consumers. At a store level that means improving the way Alldays ­ to quote Clapham speak ­ "interfaces" with shoppers so it offers the consistency of McDonald's with all the enthusiasm of Prêt à Manger. It will all take time, of course. And that's something the Alldays' management team may not have a lot of. Clapham shrugs off such suggestions, pointing out that his role is to sort out the retail stuff while chairman George Duncan handles the City. "We are playing to the skills of the individuals. I'm the retailer and will do my bit [looking after the regional operations, central operations and the buying and marketing]. I'm not doing the whole thing and that's the clever bit. George looks after the buying back of regional development companies, the City and the relationships there, and all that other stuff. This plays to people strengths." And what Clapham brings to the party ­ aside from his knowledge of food retailing and the convenience sector ­ is exactly what Alldays needs right now: someone who is methodical, meticulous and able to focus on the retail detail. Someone, in short, who can help rebuild its battered business. "What I am doing will be done thoroughly and properly. We are not in a here today, gone tomorrow' sort of mood. We are going to do it thoroughly," says Clapham. Bit like constructing a sports car, really. n {{PROFILE }}