The new CEO of Boots is a man in a hurry. When he spoke at Retail Week Live (London, March 2019) he’d only been in post for six months, but already he’s instigating the biggest changes the venerable UK pharmacy and beauty chain has seen in a generation. Sebastian James is shaking things up in a business he feels has been held back by its heritage.

“We have some incredible assets at Boots,” he said, “but we will not be immune to deep changes in customer behaviour unless we change as well – a lot.” The need for such change is evident on a high street that has seen several household names go under in the past year or two with many more struggling. The growing dominance of Amazon and creeping business rates are certainly part of the problem, but retailers need to look at themselves too.

“We have things that most pure play upstart retailers would dream of – and if we could use those assets well, we will prevail.” Among these he numbered the brand’s heritage, its trust among consumers, and the people who work there. “But these assets can cast a shadow. And those shadows may be the very things that are preventing us from doing what we need to do.”

Heritage