The Boss Who Wrote the Book on Being a Bestseller; HE'S A HARD-NOSED RETAILER WITH A LOVE OF LITERATURE AND HE'S LANDED HIS DREAM JOB AT WATERSTONE'S THE INTERVIEW
Byline: ANDREW LEACH
David Gilbert has a dilemma. Britain's top bookseller will be at the Man Booker Prize literary awards ceremony this month. But the event almost clashes with a talk he wants to hear earlier the same evening by eccentric rock star Julian Cope, a leading expert on megalithic history.
'The Man Booker is a black-tie affair and Julian's audience is likely to be hippies, so I was worried I might look out of place in a dinner jacket,' says the 50-yearold megalithic history enthusiast.
'Then I thought they would just view me as an eccentric, too, and I would fit right in.' He has certainly fitted in at Waterstone's, the book-retailing arm of HMV Group, which is best known for its record shops.
Gilbert joined in April and says it is his ideal job, combining a lifelong love of books, encouraged by a German writer grandfather, and a life in retailing, mainly with electricals group Dixons.
It could have been a different career path if he had followed up his degree in languages and literature at the University of East Anglia, where he joined a reading circle run by academic Sir Malcolm Bradbury, author of The History Man.
'I then did an MA in comparative literature and thought about becoming an academic, but figured I would never be able to afford a new suit,' he says.
His search for sartorial elegance through a management pay packet led him to Boots as a record buyer and later men's toiletries buyer. 'I could tell you all you need to know about badger hair shaving brushes,' says the bearded Gilbert.
Feeling his future lay elsewhere, he spotted a Dixons advert seeking 'product managers who are bad losers' and sensed that the company was serious about business.
He ended up staying 23 years working in various roles, including managing director of Currys - where his team included Kate Swann, now chief executive of bookselling rival WH Smith - and eventually as chief operating officer at Dixons. But when the position was phased out last year, he was back on the jobs market.
He took a course in Roman archaeology, but was then approached for the Waterstone's job by a headhunter who did not know about his love of books but knew his retailing reputation.
'It was a quirk of fate that I was available,' he says. 'It is my ideal job and the chance of a lifetime.' He joined a company that sells more than 35 million books a year - about one in four titles sold in Britain and more than any other bookseller. …