10 Marc Bolland, chief executive, Morrisons
2007 RANK: 18
Not many in the grocery sector gave Marc Bolland much hope when he took the helm in 2006. Having come from brewery Heineken, he knew little about UK supermarkets, joining the grocer after the upheaval of its Safeway takeover and spending the first year and a half under the watchful eye of grocery legend Sir Ken Morrison.
In March, Bolland blew his critics out of the water when he unveiled profits up two thirds to£612 million for the 12 months to February 3. Over the same period, Morrisons’ like-for-likes rose 4.6 per cent, but the grocer cranked up its sales growth in the second half of the year, helped by a successful celebrity ad campaign that drove shoppers into its stores.
While Bolland has certainly delivered the goods to date, some City analysts say they have not yet seen the vision of what sort of grocer Morrisons will be in two to three years. Key questions remain unanswered, such what its plans are for non-food, its web site, a loyalty card, new-format stores – or what the impact will be of the three-year£450 million technology-led optimisation programme.
Of these, the optimisation programme has the largest potential to derail its juggernaut growth, because technology initiatives on this scale tend to progress less smoothly than planned.
But Bolland has built a reputation as an assiduous listener and, given what he has delivered so far, few would bet against him.
11 Mervyn King, governor, Bank of England
2007 RANK: 43
In good times, the deliberations of the Monetary Policy Committee, progress on meeting inflationary targets and the Bank’s duty to maintain financial stability rarely register outside the walls of economics departments.
But when the going is tough, they’re rarely off the front pages and King has been at the eye of a storm for much of the past year.
The credit crunch and resulting consumer slowdown have knocked retailers for six and King is a man whose remedies have the power to kill or cure. Three interest rate cuts since December have been welcomed by store chiefs, but King has to reconcile retailers’ needs with wider economic ones and the pain may not be over for a while yet.
Inflationary pressures, particularly evident in food, are worrying the Government and King needs to keep the politicians happy too. He will continue to play a key role in re-establishing financial stability and his success will be vital to all in the retail chain – from stores’ bankers, to private equity funds whose deals have gone sour or been pulled, to chains and, crucially, customers.
12 Terry Duddy, chief executive, Home Retail Group
2007 RANK: 7
In late 2006, City bears were getting ready to write the obituaries for Home Retail’s flagship Argos chain.
Almost two years on, Terry Duddy has held his own and, although never inclined to underestimate the competition, taken quiet satisfaction in ensuring Argos did not sit on its laurels.
The evidence points to success. Although Argos has, like other retailers, suffered during the downturn, it has continued to advance despite the much-trumpeted debut of Tesco Direct.
Argos has continued to issue ever-bigger catalogues and cut prices. It has also taken a big step overseas with the opening of its first Indian stores in partnership with local retailer HyperCity.
Duddy’s Homebase chain has, like rival B&Q, been hard hit of late, as unpredictable weather, a jittery housing market and consumer reluctance to splash out on big-ticket items has taken its toll. Nevertheless, the £40 million acquisition of 27 Focus stores showed he is convinced that Homebase can ride out the storm.
13 Ian Cheshire, chief executive, Kingfisher
2007 RANK: 16
After months of speculation, it was confirmed in January that the intellectual former B&Q chief executive Ian Cheshire would assume the post vacated by Gerry Murphy.
Cheshire has proved his worth at B&Q, but Kingfisher’s as a whole is struggling and that intellect will certainly be tested in his new role. He has been quick to outline how he plans to tackle the sizeable task ahead and is demanding change, vowing to build a more hands-on business and outlining three themes to focus on: returns on profit, capital and management.
The outlining of his plans has received a mixed response. Broker JP Morgan said they were “long on intent, but light on details”, whereas ING argued it was “the beginning of meaningful strategic change”.
If he succeeds, he’ll certainly be rewarded – a turnaround could mean£16 million in his pocket over the next four years, in the form of salary, bonus and shares.
14 Alistair Darling, chancellor
2007 RANK: N/A
The influence of the Chancellor is always likely to loom large in commercial life, but is Darling up to the job? That is the question worrying many in business, including retailers, as economic storms rage.
Although faced with a difficult situation, Darling was heavily criticised for his response to the credit crunch and especially the collapse of Northern Rock. Perceived dithering over the handling of the bank’s crisis worried retailers, which are seeing frightened consumers keeping a tighter grip on their purses day by day.
Darling also angered luxury retailers, which feared that plans to take more money out of the hands of non-doms would hit their businesses.
The handling of such controversies has won Darling few friends. The jury is out on the man responsible for economic policy and the UK’s financial wellbeing – an unwelcome situation when his actions, for good or ill, will be a crucial influence on the retail sector’s health.
15 John Browett, chief executive, DSGi
2007 RANK: N/A
The former management consultant and Tesco high-flier is renowned for his formidable intellect and he’ll need every one of those brain cells to work out what the future looks like for electricals giant DSGi.
Having issued two profit warnings this year, Browett will be thinking long and hard about how to get the business back on track. PC World in the UK and UniEuro in Italy have suffered particularly badly.
Browett has been keeping his head down since taking the reins in Hemel Hempstead, but all eyes will be on him next month when he reveals the outcome of his strategic review of the business.
But he’s already shown he’s not afraid of taking tough decisions and the view of many people is that if anyone can turn the business around, he can.
16 Simon Wolfson, chief executive, Next
2007 RANK: 15
Next’s chief executive was one of the first to admit that trading was going to be tough in fashion this year and his cautious stance has been proved right.
With his target customer of 30-something families most likely to be hit by soaring mortgage rates, the coming years will be a difficult ride for the retailer.
The shy Wolfson has lost millions in bonuses as the bet he and other top Next executives made back in 2004 – that Next’s share price would be above£24.50 by July 2008 – looks now near impossible to achieve.
Looking ahead, Wolfson has positioned the internet as the key ground for testing new product areas, including fitted kitchens and bathrooms.
He has also used the site to begin testing the appetite in Western Europe for its offer, opening up deliveries from the site to Spain, with France, Germany and Portugal next to be offered the service.
The consumer downturn will inevitably dent Next, but Wolfson runs a tight ship that should emerge unscathed.
17 Richard Bradbury, managing director, River Island
2007 RANK: 20
In a fashion industry packed with egos, Bradbury is a one-off. Low-profile and down-to-earth, Bradbury has nevertheless played a key role in the dramatic growth of River Island, which has continued to evolve and expand over the past few years.
Managing director Bradbury is the only member of the River Island board not to be a one of the founding Lewis family, which has steered its fashion business through various incarnations such as Lewis Separates and Chelsea Girl.
His instrumental role in the young fashion world was recognised in the year’s New Year’s Honours list when he was awarded a CBE.
Like every other fashion business, 2008 won’t be easy for River Island, but through imaginative store design, cautious international expansion and, fundamentally, an unerring feel for the pulse of young fashion, Bradbury will hope he can continue to keep the business ahead of the game.
18 Gunnar Sigurdsson, chief executive, Baugur
2007 RANK: 22
The affable Icelandic’s role at the acquisitive Baugur has changed more than once in the past year.
He now presides over a£430 million war chest for retail investments after divesting the£1.5 billion Baugur portfolio of non-retail investments this month.
Now running a slide rule over Moss Bros, Sigurdsson may now also have the wherewithal to revisit a joint bid for US department store Saks and maybe even Debenhams. In the past year, Baugur has taken stakes in both, alongside Micky Jagtiani of Dubai’s Landmark Group. It has also created a holdings group – Aurum – for its speciality brands and taken a controlling stake in Whistles.
Following the restructuring, Sigurdsson will focus on expanding the portfolio in home markets and overseas. He will also aim to drive growth in the online sphere.
But challenges lie ahead. Not all of the businesses that Baugur has invested in are on top form, with MK One put up for sale last week, and others also underperforming.
19 Rob Templeman, chief executive, Debenhams
2007 RANK: 14
Being sandwiched in the list between two Baugur heavyweights is appropriate for Templeman. Since last summer, Baugur has snapped up a 7 per cent stake in Debenhams, the City’s favourite whipping boy.
Stakebuilding by Landmark boss Micky Jagtiani has followed, sparking suggestions of a joint bid. However, both said the holdings were opportunistic because shares have plummeted to an all-time low.
Templeman lives retail and lives deals. He has put on a brave face, despite the poor performance. Although Christmas trading was better than expected, January and February provided little respite.
The City remains confused by pledges to push upmarket, while retaining its extensive promotional schedule and with promises to overhaul stores while slowing its rate of refits. With the appointment of former George boss Angela Spindler to the new role of managing director and rumours that chairman John Lovering is mulling retirement, it is unclear whether deal junkie Templeman will still be around heading Debenhams next year.