The going was far from good, but Sir Stuart made it over the hurdles to land his dream job of executive chairman at Marks & Spencer.
This of course leaves the key role of chief executive to be filled in coming months. The jockeying has started and the field is wide open.
Across the UK high street, we seem to be a net exporter of management talent at the moment. I blame it all on Archie Norman, who has been shipping out the likes of Ian McLeod to sort out his Australian interests. Tesco continues to fertilise its global push with British managers. Can the UK high street afford to lose top-notch retailers at this stage in the cycle?
However, there is some inward movement: Inditex here is now in the hands of a Spaniard, Bob Willett is back in the UK more often, supervising Best Buy’s invasion, and Steve Gilman, unshackled from B&Q Asia, is renewing his Scottish roots.
But the most interesting shift of late has happened at another company. Imagine you are a new-ish chairman. The UK high street is slowing down as consumers rein in years of over-consumption. Your retail division’s offer is being picked off by online players, supermarkets and specialists. The chief executive you inherited is well liked by many in the City and the fourth estate, and is generally viewed as having done a reasonable job with the poor hand of cards he was given at the start of his six-year tenure.
What to do? In the case of Woolworths, you show him the door and try to find his replacement – a lengthy process, because the chalice (more likely a Worthit coffee mug) contains what is widely assumed to be something less pure than Thames river water.
However, well before you have concluded this tricky operation, you embark on a strategy review so that you can tell your new chief executive what he should be doing.
Acknowledging that looking into a company from outside is usually done through a rather murky pane of glass, this saga does have a rather Alice in Wonderland ring to it.
How will Steve Johnson fare? Like Trevor Bish-Jones, he is grounded in the school of retail hard knocks (learning at the feet of Allan Leighton will not have been all sweetness and light). He is used to playing with a difficult hand, having taken on Focus, one of the more challenged players in UK DIY.
Ironically, like Bish-Jones, he is also used to equestrian hard knocks – both have broken bones tumbling from their steeds in recent years. Good luck, Steve, with the wonder of Woolies.
Paul Smiddy, head of retail research, HSBC