Whether Sir Stuart Rose stays on as Marks & Spencer’s executive chairman until 2011 or goes early, what matters is getting the successor right.
Among the many amazing incidents recalled in Marks in Time, the book published to commemorate Marks & Spencer’s 125th birthday, was the shooting of chairman Teddy Sieff by notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
Thankfully he survived – helped by healthy teeth that deflected the bullet.
Whether Rose stays until 2011 or goes early, what matters is getting the successor right. Rose was the right choice in 2004, when Marks & Spencer was reeling in the face of Sir Philip Green’s audacious bid. But when Rose steps down, perhaps he should be the last of the grandees who have traditionally led the business.
It’s easy for the chief executive of Marks & Spencer to become bigger than the business. As custodian of such a revered British brand, they are part of the establishment and their views sought on matters far beyond retail.
But what Marks & Spencer now needs is a different sort of figurehead. It needs the equivalent of Sir Terry Leahy, who retains a sort of chippiness he’s probably had since a young man, not long off the bus from Liverpool and with a family to feed. It’s open to question whether any of the internal contenders to succeed Rose would fit that bill.
Marks & Spencer needs reinvention and regrouping in the same way Tesco did in the early 1990s. There’s no reason to think its problems can’t be surmounted – everybody wrote off Tesco’s chances back then – but it will take a focused merchant to lead the retailer to pastures new, create a modern mission and ensure delivery.
Asda boss Andy Bond has dampened talk that he would be interested. That’s a shame, because he would probably suit the role well. But assuming he sticks to his guns, M&S could do worse than recruit in his image.
Despite Rose’s critics and despite Marks & Spencer’s present travails, he has ndone more than many imagined possible when he came in back in 2004. But a change in style when he steps down is essential.
Follow George on Twitter at twitter.com/GeorgeMacDn