With bold ecommerce growth on the agenda it’s little wonder Marks & Spencer has poached Tesco’s online pioneer to work her magic.
February 2011 Named M&S executive director for multichannel and ecommerce
2004 to 2011 Tesco.com chief executive
2000 to 2003 Tesco group strategy director
1997 to 2000 Tesco targeted marketing director
1993 to 1997 Gemini Consulting, manager
1987 to 1991 Kleinwort Benson, investment banker
But described by a friend as “frighteningly intelligent, physically tough”, many believe her credentials warrant the boost to M&S’s share price, and her seat on the bellwether’s main board.
Wade-Gery will join M&S as executive director of multichannel and ecommerce - probably in the summer - after more than 10 years at Tesco. Described by one analyst as “fiercely ambitious”, it is thought her seat on the M&S board was a big motivator in her decision to move, as well as her love for ecommerce.
Already touted as a potential successor to M&S chief executive Marc Bolland, Wade-Gery’s move was a further blow to Tesco because she had been promoted to incoming boss Phil Clarke’s executive committee just last month and, at the start of the year, had been handed the role of head of non-food, a £10bn business, which she was due to take up in March.
Nick Lansley, head of research and development at Tesco.com, who worked for Wade-Gery, wrote on his blog that he was “stunned” when he learnt she was leaving.
In a further blog that was subsequently taken down, he said that “her heart is in ecommerce”. He added: “Her head said she should take on this new role [in non-food] and move onwards and upwards in Tesco but I don’t think her heart followed. Now she’s taking her head and her heart. They’ll be a formidable team.”
An Oxford graduate, it seems Wade-Gery was liked and admired by her team at Tesco. Lansley wrote that while Wade-Gery was tough, she also brought the fun to the dotcom division, recalling that Wade-Gery took the time to organise the dotcom team’s office space in Welwyn to ensure it was an inspiring place to work.
Under Wade-Gery, who lives in Camden during the week and in Sussex at the weekends where she plays shepherd on her farm, Tesco’s dotcom division flourished.
Tesco claimed to be the first supermarket to make a profit from online grocery, and it was revealed last October that full-year dotcom sales were up 16% to £1.2bn.
A strategist who started her career at Kleinwort Benson then Gemini Consulting, Wade-Gery describes herself herself a “customers’ champion”. Lansley agreed, writing that Wade-Gery always put herself in the place of the customer, constantly asking her team what the customer would want.
Her tough reputation has followed her since she was an undergraduate when she took a trip retracing Marco Polo’s 13th century voyage from Palestine to China with her friend, author William Dalrymple. The journey was then immortalised in Dalrymple’s book, In Xanadu, in which he described how Wade-Gery single-handedly saw off a Delhi street gang.
Dalrymple has previously said of Wade-Gery: “Stories of her feats of endurance were common currency; if half of them were true, she had by the age of 21 made [explorer] Freya Stark look like a dilettante.”
Her sense of adventure could have stemmed from her upbringing. As the daughter of a senior diplomat she grew up in countries including Vietnam, Russia and India. As a toddler she was evacuated with her family during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive.
For M&S, which wants to grow its online business from an expected £500m this year to as much as £1bn by 2014, Wade-Gery’s go-getting attitude is a clear strength.
She once said that the reason she joined Tesco was that while working as a consultant to the retailer she suggested an idea on a Friday afternoon. When she returned on Monday morning it had been done. If she can help replicate that culture at M&S, her career at the retailer may also be immortalised.