As he prepares to join the House of Lords, the former M&S boss speaks to Retail Week.
When Sir Stuart Rose left Marks & Spencer in 2011 he made himself a few promises.
He was only going to work with people he liked, in companies he liked and understood and where he had the opportunity to invest and have fun.
Three years on, he has built up a portfolio of roles that fits his criteria. With the exception of etail grocer Ocado, where he is chairman, they are all private companies such as etailer Soak & Sleep, Italian food specialist Coco di Mama and style advisor Dressipi.
All share one trait in common. Rose, one of the foremost members of retail’s establishment, is these days a fan of “disruptive” businesses whether taking advantage of the shift to online or start-ups with fresh ideas.
“I enjoy working with people who are prepared to put their ideas on the line and put all their energies into it,” he says.
“A consequence, or benefit, of the recession is that we’ve now got more start-ups than we’ve ever had.
“The UK has a fantastic history of strong innovation and IP [intellectual property]. It’s no coincidence that I’m involved in three start-ups.
“I hope I can add a bit of experience – positive and negative – that will help them avoid making some of the same mistakes I made.”
Although no longer a start-up, Ocado is representative of Rose’s interest in disruptive businesses and he believes it is well place to thrive in a food retail market convulsed by change.
“Nobody could have predicted the number of moving parts in food retail now. It’s stunning,” Rose observes.
“If you don’t keep up with the van of of innovation, you’re a loser. If you’re going at 10 miles an hour to try and keep up with Mo Farah, you’ve lost.”
“If you’re going at 10 miles an hour to try and keep up with Mo Farah, you’ve lost.”
Although Ocado’s model and prospects have been questioned by some in the City, Rose is convinced it is in tune with consumers who are “no longer just king, but masters of the universe”.
“Do people want the luxury of convenience, great service and choice?” asks Rose. “We’re the only people who can provide that outstanding service.”
Rose, a Conservative supporter, is likely to combine his establishment and disruptive tendencies at the end of next month when he will become a member of the House of Lords.
He is reluctant to say what sort of issues he may focus on, characterising the elevation as being like “a little boy at a new school”. He says: “I’ll concentrate on areas where I have something to offer.”
It’s conceivable that sustainability may be on his agenda. Rose, the architect of Marks & Spencer’s landmark Plan A programme, continues to speak out on green matters.
This week he addressed the RWM resource efficiency and recycling conference in Birmingham, where he urged government, business and NGOs to work together on sustainability matters.
He said: “It came off the agenda because of the recession. We need to get it back on the agenda.”
Rose has plenty on his plate and shows no sign of slowing down.
“I like to be busy,” he says. “I’d rather be overworked than underworked. But the most important thing is to have fun.”