We’ve a solid track record of retailer speakers at the Mandrake, numbering Sir Stuart Rose, Sir Philip Green, Mohamed Al-Fayed, John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield, Sock Shop founder Sophie Mirman and Poundland boss Jim McCarthy among our illustrious alumni. Cambridge economics and law graduate Ian Cheshire joined Kingfisher in 1998 after spells at Guinness and Sears, and was appointed Group Chief Executive in 2008, since when he’s built Kingfisher into Europe’s largest home improvement business (and the third biggest retailer in the FTSE 100, bigger than both Sainsbury’s and M&S).

Ian was a relaxed and entertaining speaker, and talked illuminatingly about the challenges of life running a FTSE 100 company in the teeth of a recession. He talked about his three key priorities as a CEO: first, always be crystal clear and consistent about where the business is going, second, get the right teams in place (Ian was happy to say he always tries to employ people that are better than him: self-deprecating or not, it’s a sound principle) and third, keep communicating, inside and outside the business, all the time: whether the news is good or bad, keep it coming.

It’s a simple formula that’s delivering some startlingly good results at Kingfisher, whose market cap has more than doubled since Ian took the hot seat. Ian’s one of those CEOs who come across as friendly and informal but when the questions started, you could tell straight away that he knows his business inside out, right down to the last nut and bolt on the shelf. A charming and generous speaker, and a great Mandrake evening.