20 Don McCarthy, chairman, House of Fraser and Aurum Holdings
2007 RANK: 31

When Don McCarthy was elected to Baugur’s board last June, it signified his role as a key player in the Icelandic investor’s inner circle. And, with his fingers in so many pies, he might now be one of the busiest people in retail.

As well as leading the revamp of House of Fraser as chairman, he has been a driving force behind the controversial bid for menswear retailer Moss Bros. He became chairman of Aurum – Baugur’s holding company for jewellers Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb and Watches of Switzerland – in December.

The outspoken McCarthy has been at the centre of controversy, whether it be in the war of words with the family shareholders outraged at Baugur’s 42p-a-share bid for Moss Bros or with suppliers squeezed by changes to terms at House of Fraser.

As Baugur restructures its portfolio to focus solely on retail, McCarthy will remain central.

21 Kate Swann, chief executive, WHSmith
2007 RANK: 28

More of the same from Swann, who retains her place as retail’s leading lady. The strategy at WHSmith has remained grindingly familiar, with an unrelenting focus on growing profits by cutting costs, while sales in the core high street business remain steady.

The travel division remains the star performer and Swann has sought to build the business with a series of bolt-on deals in motorway service areas and hospitals. She has also stuck a deal to relocate post office counters in her high street stores in an effort to drive footfall.

Her tough measures haven’t endeared her to everyone in the business, but she remains a darling of the City. Having been linked with several top jobs such as the chief executive’s role at Kingfisher, she has now agreed a new long-term incentive deal at WHSmith.

Nevertheless, many believe she is destined for one of the sector’s biggest jobs before long.

22 Stefano Pessina, chairman, Alliance Boots
2007 RANK: 8

Having pulled off the first ever private equity deal for a FTSE 100 company in conjunction with KKR last summer, Pessina has set about proving his critics wrong by investing in the retail arm of Alliance Boots as well as the pharmaceutical business, where his heritage lies.

The 66-year-old Italian is unlikely to allow the business to rest on its laurels and is enjoying the freedom that private ownership gives him to make changes rapidly. Last week, Pessina told Retail Week that he plans to ramp up profits by at least 10 per cent while he is running the business.

Boots has been gaining market share, but there are nagging worries about its giant£8 billion debt burden. However, Pessina is relaxed about it and, given his remarkable track record in the pharmaceutical sector,few would bet against him making a success of Boots.

23 Phil Wrigley, chief executive, New Look
2007 RANK: 13

Could this be the last retail power list in which Wrigley appears as chief executive of New Look? Although the fast-fashion retailer denies the speculation, management reshuffles in both the UK and international divisions and the appointment of McKinsey to lead a review of the business suggest the way is being paved for a succession strategy.

The hot money is on Wrigley taking the hot seat that was left vacant in November by former chairman Richard Lapthorne.

Profits at the business increased 6.2 per cent to £103.3 million for 2006/2007. Like-for-like sales fell 3.4 per cent in the 15 weeks to January 5, although gross margin increased more than 400 basis points.

The potential sale of New Look stopped abruptly last summer, after the credit crunch quashed all chances of a deal. However, despite the dampened excitement this year, the McKinsey review is revisiting New Look’s operational strategy to help it forge ahead with ambitious plans to roll out the brand internationally.

24 Simon Fox, chief executive, HMV
2007 RANK: 26

Against the odds, Fox seems to be making a decent fist of creating compelling reasons why HMV should still exist.

External factors have helped – notably the remarkable performance of the computer games category and the collapse of smaller rivals in the music business – but nevertheless his initiatives seem to be bearing fruit.

HMV’s store of the future at Merry Hill has emerged as a successful blueprint for the entertainment store of years to come. Meanwhile, the acquisition of the Fopp brand has given HMV a low-cost entry into the die-hard music fan market.

There is still a lot to do and many cynics remain to be persuaded that entertainment retailing has a future on the high street. However, the affable Fox has made sure that if one player is left standing, it will be HMV.

25 Derek Lovelock, chief executive, Mosaic Fashions
2007 RANK: 12

Retail veteran Lovelock has taken his foot off the gas a little in the past year after a mammoth 2006, when Rubicon Retail was subsumed into Mosaic.

As well as relinquishing his non-executive chairmanship at fashion group Jacques Vert, speculation has mounted that he will step up to the role of chairman at Mosaic after the appointment of Mike Shearwood as his deputy last summer. Since then, Lovelock has divided operational responsibilities at the eight-brand group so he concentrates on boutique brands Coast, Karen Millen, Odille and Anoushka G, which was acquired in October.

Before Christmas, Mosaic demerged its niche womenswear brand Whistles and the group is now strengthening each brand’s top management and reviewing its operational platform to drive performance. Profits at Mosaic jumped 23 per cent to£31.5 million for the half year to July 28 on sales of£407 million.

Lovelock is still in the driving seat for international opportunities at Mosaic and the US will be a key market, especially if part-owner Baugur’s bid for Saks succeeds.

26 Brian McBride, managing director, Amazon UK
2007 RANK: N/A

The Scottish chief of the UK’s largest pure-play e-tailer has kept Amazon well ahead of its rivals, overseeing the introduction of four new categories to the site and now set to enter the world of digital music downloads.

McBride is a big fan of, perhaps surprisingly, Slough, where his office is based and of Celtic Football Club, where he is on the board. He runs a business that strikes fear into all non-food retailers.

The former T-Mobile boss is in a unique position. Many of the innovations on the UK site have first been tested and had the “creases ironed out” on the US site. With the international sites growing 30 per cent a year and for the first time exceeding growth in the US, McBride can afford to be bullish. And with same-day delivery now available in some areas, the fulfilment side of e-tail is another key area where Amazon is leading the field.

27 John King, chief executive, House of Fraser
2007 RANK: 27

Now firmly ensconced on the site of the former Marks & Spencer HQ on London’s Baker Street, the former Matalan chief can look back over a busy year at the helm of House of Fraser. It has been a year of ups and downs as the retailer moves closer to its aim of becoming a national luxury department store chain.

After culling the iconic stag logo, reviewing management teams and turning the screws on suppliers, King has introduced numerous top-end brands, launched House of Fraser’s web site and kick-started store revamps. At the opening of its biggest store in Belfast last month, the retailer got its money’s worth from supermodel Yasmin Le Bon, who is fronting a£50 million marketing campaign.

It is hard to determine the retailer’s performance since the Baugur-backed takeover in November 2006, but it bucked the trend over the vital Christmas period, with like-for-likes up 2.4 per cent in the five weeks to January 3.

28 Ian Dyson, finance director, Marks & Spencer
2007 RANK: N/A

Dyson has been a fixture by chief executive Sir Stuart Rose’s side since joining the retailer in June 2005. However, the management changes in March, when Rose’s intention to become executive chairman were revealed, brought Dyson more power and put him in the running to be the next chief executive.

Alongside his responsibility for finance, IT, logistics, property and store development, Dyson has taken on responsibility for operations including retail and HR. Making a success of his enlarged role will be a key test for Dyson if he is to succeed Rose – there are relatively few instances in retail when a finance boss has moved into the top job.

Aged 44, Dyson was formerly finance director of Rank and group financial controller of Hilton Group. He has impressed with his financial acumen and made a big impact at M&S. Over the next three years, he will be determined to show he has more strings to his bow.

29 Lucy Neville-Rolfe, corporate and legal affairs director, Tesco
2007 RANK: 70

Few people in retail can have a fuller in-tray than Lucy Neville-Rolfe. The former Whitehall mandarin plays a key role in seeing off the numerous challenges to Tesco’s dominance, whether that be marshalling the company’s defence against the Competition Commission’s grocery investigation or firing off writs to The Guardian about its articles on Tesco’s tax schemes.

Behind the plummy accent lies a formidable brain and a knowledge of the corridors of power that is second to none. Now, Neville-Rolfe has added to her portfolio the chairmanship of garden centre Dobbies, in which Tesco took a controlling stake last year in a clear sign of its growing focus on the green agenda.

That Tesco has emerged largely unscathed from the challenges of the past year is a tribute to her skills.