There’s a new Tim Cecil at Henry Bucks. Those two names have been connected icons of the Australian rag trade for four decades, and two years ago there was the smoothest possible management succession: Tim Cecil replaced Tim Cecil.
In fact, it was so smooth, no one noticed. Customers and suppliers kept writing to Tim Cecil, managing director, and two years later, the young Tim is still getting emails and phone calls for Uncle Tim.
Yes, they’re uncle and nephew, not father and son. Uncle Tim is a great grandson of the fabled Henry Buck and the young Tim’s father, Jonathan Cecil, is the other one. Uncle Tim had no children of his own, and only one of Jonathan’s three kids was interested.
Indeed, Henry and his descendants have been running succession pretty close to the wind for generations.
Henry’s grandson Peter Dennett flew a Lancaster bomber in World War II and was shot down over France in 1944, leaving a succession gap that meant that his father, Henry Buck’s son-in-law Fred Dennett, had to run the store well into his late 70s.
Henry started the business with a partner as a high-end shirt maker in 1890. He had emigrated from England three years earlier and got a job on a sheep farm in NSW, not far from Mildura, but his fiancee Laura Jane Rose joined him there and put her foot down: farm life was not for her, so they went off to Melbourne where Henry learned how to cut shirts.
He was robbed penniless by the partner, so no more partnerships: only family from then on. He and Laura rebuilt the business from a shop off Swanston Street, and did very well, importing quality fabrics from London and making good shirts and pajamas.
About 1910 they were also importing hats for a shop called City Hatters, underneath Flinders Street station. The bloke who owned that store ran up a big bill with Henry Buck that he couldn’t pay and so Henry took over that place as well.
The family still owns City Hatters and, if anything, it’s more iconic than the famous Henry Buck store in Collins Street. The City Hatters sign and the shop frontage are heritage listed, and the shop itself is a wonderful dungeon of hat fantasies -- of flamboyant fedoras, chirpy trilbies, sober bowlers and mysterious panamas -- in which one can get lost for hours (and I have).
Henry and Laura had just one child -- Elsie -- who was swept off her feet by the dashing Fred Dennett, a touring concert pianist from England, and they eloped to India. A disapproving Henry eventually relented, perhaps panicking about succession, and sent a telegram: “All is forgiven. Come home. Love, dad.”
They did, and Fred joined the firm, eventually taking over when Henry died in 1933. Fred and Elsie had two children -- Suzanne and Peter, who died during the war in 1944.
Suzanne married the splendidly named Barclay James Amherst Cecil from England, and they had two children, Timothy and Jonathan. Sue is now 93, Tim 72 and Jonathan 70 and three of them still own the business between them. Jonathan was involved in the business part-time as a designer, but Tim devoted his life to it and for 40 years from 1972 was managing director
So son-in-law took over from son-in-law, and now there’s a new Tim Cecil, nephew.
Tim the Younger worked in dispatch at Henry Bucks on school holidays and then graduated to the shop floor in his teens. He went to TAFE and studied a fashion diploma, but they only covered women’s clothing so he dropped out and worked for a succession of other retailers around Melbourne.
At the age of 25 -- 12 years ago -- he became engaged to Rhiannon. It was time to start a career, and where else but Henry Bucks? He joined Uncle Tim on the shop floor, then became a buyer and then a marketer.
And so not only was Tim Cecil, the great grandson of Henry Buck, able to spend 10 years mentoring the only possible family successor to him, the lad had the same name (his brother James is a musician and his sister Romy is still at university, so not in the succession mix).
Henry Bucks now has six stores -- three in Melbourne, including one that’s well located at the entrance to the Qantas Club at Melbourne Airport, two in Sydney and one in Adelaide, plus City Hatters.
The stuff is not cheap -- the first shirt in the online store is a Zegna plain single cuff white shirt for $345, reduced from $525 (save 34 per cent), so we’re not talking Chinese or Thai here.
Yes, they have on online store, but the Cecils’ hearts aren’t really in it, yet.
“We focus on bricks and mortar,” says Tim. “Shops are more suited to our service and relationships model.” Although they are working on ways to make the website work like their kind of store.
And as for the sixth generation, Tim and Rhiannon have a son, Riley, and a daughter, Mia.