In the retail industry, much of the chatter last week centred not on Next’s latest numbers, but chief executive Simon Wolfson’s future plans. For some time, speculation has mounted that he might consider a shift into politics, casting himself as Lord King to David Cameron’s Mrs T.
Next chief executive Simon Wolfson made headlines last week when the retailer’s update prompted upgrades.
But in the industry much of the chatter centred not on Next’s numbers, but Wolfson’s future plans. For some time speculation has mounted that he might consider a shift into politics, casting himself as Lord King to David Cameron’s Mrs T.
Wolfson’s association with the Tory leader, an appearance on Question Time and a potential change of government have stoked the speculation. But the talk has irritated Wolfson. Those who know him rubbish the idea that politics has a higher place in his priorities than Next. They point to his family’s long-standing involvement in politics and business – the former never at the expense of the latter – and say his interest has been misinterpreted. Ensuring the success of Next’s established strategy to increase earnings per share remains front of mind.
During the downturn, Wolfson’s “downturn, not Armageddon” mantra has helped ensure a sense of perspective on retail’s problems. His behaviour has been statesmanlike, allies agree – but on behalf of his company and the stores industry more than any party.
Humility saves the day
Sorry may be the hardest word, but over the past week two of the biggest retailers have served up apologies to shoppers. First came Marks & Spencer’s climbdown over the storm in a D-cup. Then, after an IT glitch caused problems in stores, Tesco issued a contrite statement.
Neither Tesco nor M&S would have chosen to be in such positions, but the tone and speed of their reactions probably bolstered rather than diminished their reputations.
Tesco recently posted record results, indicating it has not lost its touch. M&S will be in the spotlight next week, when it issues full-year figures. The revelations then, and accompanying mood music, will show whether M&S has anything else to be sorry about.
George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week