Retail Week’s annual ranking of retail’s leaders, sponsored by our corporate partners Green Park, Hermes, Manhattan Associates and Tata Consultancy Services.





1. Justin King

2. Lord Wolfson

3. Charlie Mayfield

4. Ian Cheshire

5. Jeff Bezos

6. Sir Philip Green

7. Philip Clarke

8. Nick Robertson

9. Andy Clarke

10. Marc Bolland

11. John Browett

John Browett

John Browett

11 (2011 rank: 15)

Senior vice-president of retail, Apple

It’s been a difficult few years for the consumer electronics sector, which makes John Browett’s achievements all the more impressive. He has steered Dixons through a market that has seen off Best Buy and pitched Comet into a tailspin, and has left the Currys and PC World owner in a far stronger position than when he joined in 2007.

Over the past year, Dixons has continued to cement its service credentials and expertise, enabling it to stand out from the etailers, grocers and others all competing in that space. In January, Browett’s hard work was rewarded when he was appointed senior vice-president of retail at Apple with a huge £36m golden hello – fitting, as the technology giant was no doubt an inspiration when he overhauled Dixons.

Although he is now based in California and Apple is very much a US company, he will still have a big impact on UK retail. His role is international, and Apple’s every move is scrutinised. Where the world’s biggest company by capitalisation leads, others follow, and Brow­ett will play an important part at the hugely influential company.

12. Mark Price

Mark Price

Mark Price

12 (2011 rank: 9)

Managing director, Waitrose

By all accounts, Waitrose has had a pretty good downturn. Its market share has risen – from 4.4% to 4.5% in May, according to Kantar, and sales grew 7% in the 12 weeks to May 13.

Mark Price’s sound business approach has driven this success. He has introduced an aggressive pricing strategy, grabbing headlines as Waitrose moved to match all branded prices with Tesco and benefiting from the resultant improvements in shoppers’ perception.

If there was one issue that needed to be addressed at Waitrose, it was the perception that it’s much more expensive than its counterparts – by tackling that with gusto while still retaining its reputation for quality, Price is positioning Waitrose for further growth.

Price is well known for his affability, as well as his willingness to speak up on behalf of the retail industry and UK business interests. This year he has talked about the workfare issue and defended the importance of socially responsible businesses in British society. As the leader of one of the retailers that has managed to thrive during the downturn, his comments are listened to.

13. Dalton Philips

13 (2011 rank: 10)

Chief executive, Morrisons

Dalton Phillips

Dalton Phillips

The passionate Irishman at the head of the fourth largest UK grocer has been under the microscope in the past year as he starts to flesh out his vision for the future of Morrisons.

Philips is broadening its offer with revamped stores, a transactional online business and a convenience business.

He has come under fire from some in the City for moving too slowly but he has been quick to stress that Morrisons is trying out a variety of business approaches to find the right formula.

And while some might complain about the speed, it cannot be said that Morrisons is not moving forward. Although Philips has slipped three places down the Power List as his plans begin to take shape, early reactions have been positive.

Morrisons’ convenience-format stores, M Local, are considered impressive and 300 are planned for the next three years. The retailer’s non-food website, meanwhile, will launch later this year, Kiddicare’s management team has been bolstered, and Philips is carefully considering the case for online food retailing.

His pragmatic, thorough approach has won respect and his mid-Atlantic tone is becoming one of the strongest in dictating retail trends. When he declared in March that the future of general merchandise was “not big box but delivered in a cardboard box”, the industry sat up and listened.

Aside from the multichannel conundrum, Philips has spearheaded a fresh food focus, and has been leading the transformation of the retailer by vertically integrating Morrisons’ supply chain.

As his ideas begin to take shape, Morrisons’ next phase will be fascinating to watch.

14. Angela Ahrendts

Angela Ahrendts

Angela Ahrendts

14 (2011 rank: 17)

Chief executive, Burberry

Angela Ahrendts has had another stellar year. Burberry won Oracle Retailer of the Year at this year’s Oracle Retail Week Awards and its full-year results for the year to March 31 showed profits rose 26% to £376m; the retailer’s profile in the industry has gone from strength to strength.

Despite her inspired building of the business since her arrival in 2006, Ahrendts is a reticent retail star and rarely speaks on industry issues. But the company’s strategy for the coming years proves her mettle. International growth is continuing apace, with 25 flagship markets identified, and Burberry is perfectly poised to keep taking advantage of the appeal of ‘Britishness’.

Its marketing strategy remains industry-leading, with fresh images constantly delivered to stores, and key young British stars used in the campaigns.

And with Burberry’s apparently effortless ability to combine its strong heritage with up-to-the-minute innovation, other retailers will continue to look to Ahrendts for inspiration on how to adapt to a new retailing environment.

15. Alex Gourlay

Alex Gourlay

Alex Gourlay

15 (2011 rank: 16)

Chief executive, health and beauty, Alliance Boots

Well-respected and well-liked, the modest Alex Gourlay continues to drive the strong and steady health and beauty machine at Alliance Boots.

Gourlay’s focus this year has been continued customer loyalty. Development of No 7, the successful own-brand skincare and make-up range, has been ongoing with new products introduced. And the Advantage Card has continued to do well for the retailer, despite competition from Superdrug’s Beautycard.

The Scot is a Boots man through and through after working his way to the top from the shopfloor, cutting his teeth at a Boots store in Glasgow. But he never remains mired in the past and continues to pull Boots into the digital age by investing £50m in a new Burton-on-Trent warehouse to improve online profitability and delivery services, which Boots says will allow it to offer next-day and named-day delivery for online shoppers.

While online is important, Gourlay remains passionate about the nation’s high streets. He is one of the most vocal supporters of vibrant town centres and full of ideas on how to improve them, making his views known to the Govern­ment and contributing to the Portas Review.

16. Andy Street

Andy Street

Andy Street

16 (2011 rank: 18)

Managing director, John Lewis

The flamboyant and upbeat Andy Street has had a solid year. As boss of high street bellwether John Lewis, he has maintained a strong focus on the retailer’s multichannel business.

Last year’s tie-up with sister retailer Waitrose to launch click-and-collect in the grocer’s stores was a simple but masterful stroke. Street is intent on bringing the John Lewis offer to as many people as possible, without having to build full-line depart­ment stores.

To that end, and with the online business booming, Street revealed his plan to open smaller department stores, giving John Lewis greater flexibility on potential locations and enabling it to expand more quickly.

Street has also been determined to make the most of the Olympic opportunity, revamping the Oxford Street flagship, unveiling London 2012 areas in stores, and opening its all-singing, all-dancing store in Westfield Stratford City – located next to the London Olympic Park.

While last year may not have been as strong as 2010 – oper­ating profits were down 20.4% to £40.5m – Street has kept in­vest­ing to make sure John Lewis stays on the winner’s podium.

17. Malcolm Walker

17 (2011 rank: 21)

Founder, Iceland

Malcolm Walker

Malcolm Walker

One of the biggest characters in retail, Malcolm Walker bolstered his standing this year by buying back his beloved Iceland business, which he founded in 1970, for £1.4bn.

Walker could be forgiven for allowing the two-year-long process to secure the business – eventually backed by funds from friend and DFS founder Lord Kirkham and South African private equity firm Brait – to take its toll. But despite the slow pace of the deal, he is in a confident and ebullient mood, heading a well-motivated 22,000-strong workforce.

Walker is a talented and charismatic re­tailer – Iceland’s most successful periods have always been under his tenure, so he is understandably pleased to have regained control of the company. It didn’t come easy either. He had to fend off bids from private equity firms and other retailers for the 77% of the company he did not own. “I have the best job in the world,” he proclaimed on completion of the deal.

Iceland’s market share continues to grow as ­consumers seek bargains, and the business looks set to go international with plans to open stores – fittingly enough – in Iceland.

Now that he has full control, Walker, the self-proclaimed pioneer of the ‘round pound’ deal, remains a leading light in the industry.

18. Philip Day

Philip Day

Philip Day


Owner, Edinburgh Woollen Mill

A new entry in this year’s Power List, the owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group has worked hard to earn his place. Widely known for being media shy, Philip Day was pushed into the spotlight when he rescued value fashion chain Peacocks after it collapsed into administration in January. Committed to the cause, he has based himself in Cardiff to oversee the turnaround of the business, far from his family home in Brampton, Cumbria.

The acquisition followed that of Jane Norman, another retailer that he saved from administration. His passion for retail extends beyond his own businesses and he has spoken about the importance of saving jobs in such turbulent economic times.

Day’s approachable and charming nature belies an extremely ambitious and experienced retailer, following a career that began at Coats Viyella and Wensum. He moved on to British heritage brand Aquascutum before he built up the Edinburgh Woollen Mill group through various acquisitions.

It’s been a big year for Day, and as he develops the businesses he has rescued and keeps an eye out for other possibilities, his influence is only going to go one way.

19. Mary Portas


Retail expert

Mary Portas

Mary Portas

Mary Portas has been the name on retailers’ lips over the past year, as the flame-haired, self-styled retail guru led a Government-sponsored analysis of how the UK can revive struggling British high streets. It was a change in direction for the ‘queen of shops’ as she laid out 28 recommendations to turn the high street into a place shoppers want to visit.

The long-awaited Portas Review was published to mixed responses from retailers, but one thing is certain – she got everyone talking about the high street.

Many of her recommendations were welcomed by the retail industry, including a revision to the way business rates are calculated and a plan to reduce parking fees in town centres. However, some retailers disagreed with her proposals to restrict the development of out-of-town shopping centres. The Government has backed most of her proposals and has committed £11.5m to spend on initiatives to improve high streets.

Portas has also been busy flying the flag for British manufacturing as she set up her own underwear business, the making of which was documented on Channel 4 series Mary’s Bottom Line. With her energy, her passion for retail and her ability to draw national ­attention to retail issues, Portas will continue to be a key figure in the industry.

20. Euan Sutherland

Euan Sutherland

Euan Sutherland

20 (2011 rank: 22)

Chief operating officer, Kingfisher

Euan Sutherland can look back over the past year with a sense of satisfaction, having been promoted from UK B&Q chief executive to chief operating officer at parent company Kingfisher. His new job gives him a central role in creating a more globally integrated business – one of chief executive Ian Cheshire’s main aims in the coming years.

Sutherland’s new responsibilities are significant – he’s charged with leading the development of own-brand products at Kingfisher, which is a core strategic aim, and he will play a central role in integrating the business geographically. The entire business will have common product, IT, HR and property strategies, and Sutherland will be in charge – such a pivotal role might make Kingfisher’s new chief operating officer well-placed to be an eventual successor to Cheshire.

Obviously well respected in his own company, Sutherland is also a regular speaker at industry events. And he’s an innovative thinker as well – the B&Q Youth Board was his project, opening up the company to fresh ideas by allowing bright teenagers to give their thoughts on everything from the business model to eco-products.

21. Richard Pennycook

21 (2011 rank: 29)

Finance director, Morrisons

Richard Pennycook

Richard Pennycook

Richard Pennycook has had a busy year in control of the purse strings at the Bradford-based grocer. The well-respected group finance director missed out on the top job at Morrisons when Dalton Philips was appointed two years ago.

However, Pennycook’s role has become ever more crucial. As well as playing a part in its strategic direction, he was a driving force behind Morrisons’ digital push and is working with Kiddicare’s Scott Weavers-Wright to develop a non-food offer.

Pennycook’s value to the business was confirmed in May 2011 when he was gifted £1.25m worth of shares to cement his loyalty. The generosity appears to have paid off as Pennycook continues to work his magic at Morrisons, assuring the City that its recent trials of new formats and online retailing are the right thing for the business.

His passion for the business has been instrumental in ensuring the success of the retailer’s evolution – over the past year, he has guided the grocer through a plethora of acquisitions in its fresh food supply chain and managed the purchase of 10 former Best Buy sites to expand its Kiddicare business.

22. Paul Marchant

22 (2011 rank: 24)

Chief executive, Primark

Paul Marchant

Paul Marchant

Primark has impressed this year, continuing to dominate the wardrobes of shoppers in the UK as well as extending its reach to overseas consumers.

While other value retailers have wobbled in the current economic climate, Primark’s strategy of taking a margin hit andabsorbing cost rises has paid off – its sales continue to grow and shoppers have stayed loyal.

Paul Marchant may have kept a low profile since he began at the retailer but he has proved himself more than equal to the challenge of replacing former Primark boss and fashion legend Arthur Ryan.

He has taken the retailer to new heights this year, opening Primark menswear concessions in Selfridges stores in Manchester and Birmingham in a significant tie-up between premium and value products. And while domestic trading goes from strength to strength, continental trading is reported to have exceeded expectations as well.

Marchant has kept Primark at the leading edge of retailing. In a crowded value market, its stores and products stand out, and his masterful management in a difficult sector is one to emulate.

23. Tim Steiner

23 (2011 rank: 20)

Co-founder, Ocado

Tim Steiner

Tim Steiner

It’s easy to forget, amid headlines bemoaning Ocado’s lack of profits and questions over the business model, that Tim Steiner remains a pioneer in the market. Ocado ­created an online grocery model earlier than its rivals and insists its central distribution model is the most appropriate and efficient.

One of three founding members of the etailer, the former Goldman Sachs banker has spent the year tackling Ocado’s growing pains and finalising plans to open its second distribution centre at Dordon in Warwickshire next year.

There have been problems to solve, with the business forced to shut areas of its Hatfield distribution centre for maintenance, and issue a profit warning as a result. But better news is on the horizon – its new fulfilment centre is likely to be one of the talking points of retail in 2013.

Ocado might attract its critics, but Steiner’s confidence in and passion for the business continues to power it forward.

And despite the criticisms, Ocado still leads the way in mobile grocery shopping in the same way it did with online – Steiner is a highly respected figure in the industry as a result.

24. Mike Ashley

24 (2011 rank: 30)

Founder, Sports Direct

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley

Much like the Newcastle United Football Club he owns, retail heavy­weight Mike Ashley has had a soaring year. Sports Direct is on track to hit its full year EBITDA target of £225m in the year to March, which means Ashley, who is ranked as the 36th richest man in the UK according to The Sunday Times Rich List, is poised to boost his wealth further. The sportswear boss is to be awarded 8 million shares in the retailer – worth £24m – which he’ll collect in 2018 if he hits performance targets.

His ‘pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ strategy may be frowned upon by some retailers, but it’s a strategy that clearly works. Sports Direct continues to thrive throughout the downturn, while weaker rivals such as JJB Sports have floundered.

Its progression shows no sign of waning and Sports Direct is marching into Europe. It has already opened stores in the Netherlands, France and Portugal and aims to be in all Eurozone countries by 2015.

Things look good at home too, as Sports Direct looks to benefit from a summer of sport with the Olympics.

25. Peter Cowgill

25 (2011 rank: 37)

Executive chairman, JD Sports Fashion

Peter Cowgill

Peter Cowgill

Peter Cowgill is once again tussling with rival Mike Ashley, but this time in Retail Week’s Power List. The pair have been pitted against each other several times over the past year as the retailers have ­battled it out to buy distressed retail brands.

Cowgill’s JD Sports won the biggest battle and snapped up Blacks – a long-term target of Ashley’s – for £20m in January. The purchase of the struggling outdoor specialist dented JD’s profits in its last financial year – they plunged 14% – and is expected to take its toll this year too.

But Cowgill is playing a long game and Blacks’ outdoor business adds another string to JD’s bow. The retail group already has multiple sports and fashion fascias.

Few would be surprised if JD hit the acquisition trail again this year. Cowgill, a straight-talking accountant from Lancashire, is a master at picking up distressed retail brands and turning them around. However, his next big challenge will be expanding overseas, where the sportswear chain has a burgeoning presence in France and Spain.

26. Team GB

Team GB

Team GB


London 2012 Olympics

The athletes representing Great Britain in the London Olympic and Paralympic Games have the power to influence both footfall and consumer sentiment over the summer.

While retailers will surely be cheering on members of Team GB, those competitors progressing to the finals of their respective sports are likely to drag shoppers away from stores as the nation settles in front of their TVs hoping to watch a slice of history in the making.

However, it’s not all bad news. Consumers sitting at home could lead to a peak in internet and mobile sales. Team GB finished fourth in the medal table in the last Games in Beijing, its best performance for 100 years. There is the hope that similar success will lift the mood in a year when ­headlines have focused on the depressed economy.

Athletes likely to generate buzz include marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, as an Olympic medal has evaded her so far, and double Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington. Controversial sprinter Dwain Chambers is also one to be watched, if he makes the cut.

27. Kate Swann

Kate Swann

Kate Swann

27 (2011 rank: 19)

Chief executive, WHSmith

The fiercely private Kate Swann is renowned for her reticence in speaking to the media, and does so publicly only when it is essential. Not that this detracts from her retail nous. She’s been in the industry for years, rising up through the ranks from her first position as a Tesco trainee, and she is now credited with keeping WHSmith’s head above water.

Swann’s strategy of cutting costs to protect profits while sales fall has divided opinion, but at the same time she has worked hard to reposition the retailer, which has sometimes struggled as shopping habits in its core entertainment cate­gories shift online.

Swann has started developing a more digital offering by striking a deal to introduce Kobo electronic readers to the UK, in a bid to take on Amazon and its Kindle.

And results have been positive – the retailer has been pleased with how things have gone and is now introducing Kobo shops-in-shops into 100 of its larger stores. Swann is also continuing to focus on the strength of WHSmith’s travel division against its high street stores, which are performing less well.

So far, things have worked – but it’s when sales growth at WHSmith returns that things will start to get really interesting.

28. Chris North

28 (2011 rank: 31)

Managing director, Amazon UK

Chris North

Chris North

Amazon UK has continued to soar under Chris North, and the affable American has had plenty to keep him busy in his first year running the etail giant. If managing the integration of DVD rental service Lovefilm and books etailer The Book Depository wasn’t enough, North has also overseen the continued expansion of the site.

Amazon’s UK operation will soon emulate its US counterpart – North has said he wants it to be the site “where you can buy anything”, and he has promised continued expansion of its range. Non- entertainment categories now make up the majority of sales and the company is making advances in fashion and grocery. But its entertainment operation continues to grow – it has now overtaken HMV to become the UK’s largest entertainment retailer.

North’s publishing background – he was previously boss of über- stylish publisher Phaidon and held several senior roles at Harper Collins – will come in handy in the year ahead. The online giant is dipping its toe in the publishing industry, launching its own UK publishing arm and planning to acquire the rights to certain novels.

29. Seb James


Group chief executive, Dixons

Seb James

Seb James

Seb James could not have hoped for a better start to his time leading electricals giant Dixons, owner of the Currys and PC World chains. James succeeded John Browett as group chief executive in February after playing a key role in the company’s turnaround. As group operations director, he implemented the renewal and transformation programme, and his effort was rewarded when he was given the top job earlier this year.

It has gone well so far. In his first update as Dixons’ main man, James was able to report a like-for-like sales uplift of 8% at the core UK and Ireland business. While that was no doubt partly a result of Best Buy’s ignominious retreat from Britain and chaos at Dixons’ traditional rival Comet, it was testament primarily to the extent of change that James helped to oversee at his company.

Popular among the frontline staff at Dixons, James has enthusiastically taken to social media network Twitter to communicate with them and the wider world. While Dixons has done well, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels – but James is not the sort to take things easy.

30. Rob Templeman

Rob Templeman

Rob Templeman

30 (2011 rank: 28)

Chairman, British Retail Consortium

Rob Templeman’s first year as the chair of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) is nearly complete, and he has used his network of contacts and position at the heart of the industry to good effect. While he might now be finished with the cut and thrust of day-to-day retail, he’s not afraid to speak up on the big issues.

His role at the BRC allows him access to senior political figures, and gives him a platform for debating issues that affect every retailer. The argument surrounding business rates is a case in point – Templeman lobbied the Government on the issue, making sure it kept the uniform business rate in place instead of allowing local authorities to set their own rates.

As the focal point of retail’s biggest industry body, he’s a storehouse of information on ­everything from EU directives to which retailers are doing what – and his network of contacts is one of the best in the industry. Templeman has become involved in a range of industry events, such as Graduate Fashion Week, which he chairs, and he became chairman of roadside assistance group the RAC last year.

31. Laura Wade-Gery

31  (2011 rank: 33)

Executive director, multichannel ecommerce Marks & Spencer

Laura Wade-Gery

Laura Wade-Gery

Laura Wade-Gery’s role as head of multichannel at Marks & Spencer is crucial – what she does now will help ­determine the success or otherwise of the retail bellwether’s performance in the coming years. While she isn’t often seen talking about retail in public, behind the scenes she’s evidently an effective operator.

The past year has seen the former head of throw herself into her new job with enthusiasm, and M&S is now well into its multichannel journey. Its multichannel store format, complete with Wi-Fi and QR codes, was launched in March, and it is building its own multichannel platform as it aims to increase multichannel sales to £1bn by 2014.

Wade-Gery’s influence is not just in retail. In April, she joined the Digital Advisory Board to support the Government in delivering online public services – Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the board would help make the public sector fully digital. Even for as big a hitter as Wade-Gery, that’s no mean feat.

32. Stefano Pessina

Stefano Pessina

Stefano Pessina

32 (2011 rank: 32)

Executive chairman, Alliance Boots

The suave Italian is a fairly private type, but still exerts a strong influence over the industry.

Having delivered impressive growth since leading the buy-out of the group, Pessina shows no signs of slowing as he continues to expand the business. This year, the company celebrated the opening of its 200th store, in Thailand, and said it would cement its global presence by launching in China and growing through further acquisitions.

The Monaco-based billionaire is a serious, quietly spoken, ­confident and self-assured businessman, and he expects his ­management team to have the same dedication to the company as he does.

Although demanding, he has plenty of faith in Boots boss Alex Gourlay, who oversees the day-to-day running of the retail business.

Pessina still exerts a strong influence in the UK – his continued investment in initiatives such as Boots’ new Burton-on-Trent warehouse safeguards jobs and helps to drive the UK retail industry forward.

33. George Osborne

33 (2011 rank: 11)

Chancellor of the exchequer

George Osborne

George Osborne

The former Bullingdon Club member has slipped down the ratings this year. For a start, many of the problems facing the UK economy emanate from the Eurozone, making it difficult for Osborne to do anything about them. And there is a sense of disappointment among many in the Government’s economic management over the past year.

Few measures have been implemented to encourage consumer spending or stoke consumer confidence. Instead, businesses have watched as the austerity measures took hold and the country slipped back into recession. Sainsbury’s boss Justin King was the latest to criticise Osborne’s policies. He said consistency in crucial areas was essential to improve consumer ­confidence.

A lack of investment in national infrastructure means the Government has failed to generate jobs or confidence via that route either. The Chancellor’s business-friendly moves – such as a relaxation of Sunday trading laws and the end of the 50p tax rate – haven’t been enough to have a real effect on the retail industry.

34. Chris Bush


UK chief operating officer, Tesco

Chris Bush

Chris Bush

Chris Bush replaced Phil Clarke’s fixer Bob Robbins in February after heading the successful Tesco Lotus business in Thailand since April 2010. He was thrown in at the deep end, helping to guide the retailer through a difficult period as trading profit fell 1% to £2.5bn in the UK last year. Having developed strong skills in non-food and consumer analysis while he was boss in Malaysia, he now faces one of the toughest tasks in retail, enacting Clarke’s £1bn plan to turn its UK stores around.

Bush, who has been at Tesco for 29 years, is responsible for the UK stores, distribution network and leadership. He needs to use all the resources at his disposal to encourage shoppers to love Tesco once more and has already revamped its value range and put its £110m advertising account under review.

35. Katie Bickerstaffe


UK and Ireland chief executive, Dixons

Katie Bickerstaff

Katie Bickerstaff

Katie Bickerstaffe has, unusually, earned her place on the Power List for her success in a market some view as dominated by ‘boys’ toys’.

But, as technology is an integral part of everyday life, few have done as much as Bickerstaffe to democratise product and position Dixons as the consumer’s ally in a complex new world.

Bickerstaffe, who had long been on retail headhunters’ watchlists, spearheaded Dixons’ drive to improve service, for example, through its Know­how division.

The initiative was a smart move, in tune with changing customer needs and Bickerstaffe’s leadership was rewarded when she was promoted to the newly created position of UK and Ireland chief executive of Dixons.

Before joining the retailer in 2008, Bickerstaffe had been managing director of Kwik Save and group retail and human resources director of Somerfield. Her grocery experience gave her a particular understanding of shoppers’ needs – skills sometimes missing from the world of technology.

36. Kevin O’Byrne

Kevin O’Byrne

Kevin O’Byrne


Chief executive, B&Q

For Kevin O’Byrne, 2012 will go down as the year when he joined that rare breed of retail finance directors who progress through the ranks to become a chief executive.

Identified for promotion by his boss, Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire, the affable O’Byrne moved up from group finance director to B&Q divisional chief executive. He now has responsibility for the flagship brand not only in the tough UK and Irish market, but in Turkey and, critically, China too.

The latter is undergoing a drastic restructuring after Kingfisher opened stores that were more suited to European DIY enthusiasts, rather than the ‘Do it for me’ consumer in China.

Cheshire obviously regards O’Byrne as the right man to improve things, and the Dublin-born former Dixons finance director has the passion and drive necessary. He also has an impressive eye for product and a strong sense of what the customer wants. It is hoped O’Byrne’s qualities will translate into further market share gains at home, as well as a viable business in the important Chinese market.

37. Mike Coupe

Mike Coupe

Mike Coupe

37  (2011 rank: 78)

Group commercial director, Sainsbury’s

The likeable second-in-command at Sainsbury’s has made further strides this year, storming up the Power List as gossip about his eventual assumption of the top job continues to circulate.

Mike Coupe has overseen the success of big initiatives at the grocer over the past 12 months, such as Brand Match and the ‘Live well for less’ tagline. The commercial ­director has played an increasingly vital part in the grocer’s success and increased the scope of his responsibility this year – he’s now in charge of trading, marketing, IT and online.

The rumour mill continues to insist that Coupe is a likely successor to chief executive Justin King when he decides to move on. But while Coupe says he is flattered by the attention, he remains focused on the job in hand.

Outside of Sainsbury’s, Coupe is on the board of pub and brewing company Greene King and on the supervisory board of supply chain standards organisation GS1 UK. The 51-year-old former Iceland Foods managing director’s star continues to rise and the year ahead might just be his most spectacular yet.

38. Michael Sharp

38  (2011 rank: 59)

Chief executive, Debenhams

Michael Sharp

Michael Sharp

Michael Sharp finally took centre stage at Debenhams late in 2011, moving into the hot seat after chief executive Rob Templeman stood down.

The transition has been apparently seamless, which considering Sharp’s 15 years of service at the retailer and previous position as Templeman’s right-hand man was to be expected.

It has been business as usual for Debenhams under Sharp. He has made great strides in the department store’s strategy of becoming a multichannel retailer, and his three decades of experience mean he is well placed to lead the Debenhams ship through the current economic storm. His success so far is reflected in the figures – in the first half to March 3, pre-tax profit exceeded expectations, edging up 1.4% to £127.1m.

He’s a product man at heart, and Sharp has continued to extend Debenhams’ own-brand lines – a good way of protecting margins during tough times.

He also keeps a low profile. Before taking the helm at Debenhams, he had only given one interview in his career. But profits speak for themselves, and he will no doubt be the source of plenty of good news stories this year.

39. Mike Shearwood

Mike Shearwood

Mike Shearwood

39 (2011 rank: 47)

Chief executive, Aurora Fashions

Mike Shearwood has had his fair share of challenges to tackle since he joined Aurora Fashions’ front line but he has helped the retail group emerge relatively unscathed from the ashes of Mosaic, which collapsed in 2009. A former optician, Shearwood has long had a clear vision on the direction of UK retail. He was quick to equip the retailer for the new multichannel world and it is now reaping the rewards. Super-quick delivery, technology in-store – Aurora has become a trailblazer and Shearwood’s dynamic style has put multichannel at the heart of its operations.

40. Peter Fitzgerald

Peter Fitzgerald

Peter Fitzgerald

40 (2011 rank: 41)

UK head of retail, Google

As the main point of contact for UK retailers at Google, Peter Fitzgerald’s advice is much sought after. A Google search marks the start of an increasing number of customer purchasing journeys, and knowing how to guide it properly is crucial for any retailer.

Fitzgerald has a wealth of advice on everything Google- or web-related and has spent the past year emphasising the growing importance of mobile technology.

Google is a company that came out of nowhere off the back of the last big step change in technology – so Fitzgerald’s advice on mobile is well worth listening to. As the company continues to expand its reach, with even some tentative plans for retail stores, Fitzgerald’s all-encompassing knowledge of the way retail is changing will remain unique.

41. Alan White

Alan White

Alan White

41 (2011 rank: 50)

Chief executive, N Brown

Alan White has expertly managed N Brown’s move from being a catalogue-based business to one with a strong and growing online offer, and he is now leading the transition to being a truly multichannel retailer.

The plus-size specialist has been ramping up its multichannel offer since acquiring bricks-and-mortar business High & Mighty in 2009, and the group now plans to introduce click-and-collect across all its brands by using convenience stores.

In the past year, White has also led the launch of physical shops for the Simply Be brand, and is now piloting a physical presence for menswear brand Jacamo. Furthermore, after acquiring the loss-making lingerie business Figleaves in June 2010, White revealed the brand had turned its first ever profit in the year to March 3.

The rest of the business is looking healthy too, with pre-tax profits up 2.5% to £96.9m. White is now turning his attention to the US, where N Brown has a fledgling business. If the past year is anything to go by, his chances of success across the pond are looking up.

42. Terry Duddy

Terry Duddy

Terry Duddy

42 (2011 rank: 27)

Chief executive, Home Retail Group

Terry Duddy has come under intense pressure to take radical action at Home Retail’s flagship business Argos in the past year, yet he stands firm. Despite plummeting profits, the Home Retail boss insists the retailer is following the right strategy. He stands by its 700-strong store network, for instance, claiming that Argos needs a large number of shops to offer a full multichannel shopping experience.

New initiatives such as Argos’ launch in China will be watched closely, as will the performance of the group’s DIY chain, Homebase, which according to Home Retail has been gaining market share, despite suffering sales falls.

After the appointment in February of John Walden as Argos managing director, Duddy may now be able to spend more time strategising – he had been running the multichannel retailer since Sara Weller stepped down last year. But that strategy must come quickly. In the face of the unrelenting collapse of sales and earnings, Duddy has to convince investors he is the right man to take the business forward.

43. Peter Marks

Peter Marks

Peter Marks

43 (2011 rank: 35)

Chief executive, Co-operative Group

Peter Marks is a straight-talking retailer credited with putting the Co-operative back on the map following its acquisition of Somerfield. It is widely acknowledged that he has transformed the grocer, although there have been some teething problems too.

Along with many other UK retailers, the Co-op has had a tough year, recently axing 200 staff across its property division and suffering 300 redundancies at its head office.

Marks’ faith in the potential for the grocer remains unbowed, however. He bolstered the company with two new appointments this year – Steven Murrells joined from Danish meat company Tulip as chief executive of Co-op Food, and Sean Toal was promoted to chief operating officer. He has also continued to grow the store portfolio by acquiring David Sands, the Scottish convenience retailer, adding a further 28 shops to the Co-op’s estate.

Marks has looked again at stores and their position within the community as he drives a more tailored product offering in each area. Product range, pricing and promotional packaging are all being tailored locally. His shift away from the ‘one size fits all’ business model looks sensible.

44. Kate Bostock

Kate Bostock

Kate Bostock

44 (2011 rank: 43)

Executive director, general merchandise, Marks & Spencer

Kate Bostock has been dogged by rumours of an apparent imminent departure from Marks & Spencer this year but no news has yet materialised.

General merchandise has been under pressure in tough trading conditions and there were reports of womenswear sales falling 19% in the seven weeks to May 19. But chief executive Marc Bolland still has faith in his clothing supremo, blaming the falters on the weather. There was also an issue at the start of the year with the availability (or otherwise) of some best-selling lines.

But before things get too churlish, it’s best to remember that it was simply a hiccup and of the sort not uncommon in retail. Bostock remains one of the best in the business, and her work to overhaul the clothing offer at M&S is ongoing.

45. Ian Grabiner

45 (2011 rank: 42)

Chief executive, Arcadia

Ian Grabiner

Ian Grabiner

The Arcadia chief executive has a tough task working with famously demanding boss Sir Philip Green. But the longstanding relationship no doubt works, partly because, like Green, Ian Grabiner does not hesitate to make his views known in a forthright way.

Despite being such a key cog in the Arcadia wheel, Grabiner has kept a comparatively low profile since taking up his current role in 2009.

The retailer made headlines in 2010 when Grabiner booked pop star Pixie Lott to play at his daughter’s birthday party. But more importantly, he has succeeded in building the Topshop brand internationally this year, opening a flagship store in Las Vegas as part of a drive to grow its US presence – it’s a move that has been warmly welcomed by US shoppers.

But it has been a difficult year for Arcadia, which posted a drop in pre-tax profit of £80.1m to £133.1m as it absorbed cost increases rather than passing them on to the customer. Up to 260 store closures across the group are also possible as store leases come up for renewal, so there are further challenges for Grabiner ahead.

46. Michael Ward

46 (2011 rank: 52)

Managing director, Harrods

Michael Ward

Michael Ward

Ever the quintessential British department store, Harrods has worked hard this year to enter the digital era. With Michael Ward at the helm, it has invested heavily in digital content and social media campaigns. As a result, it is more of a contender in luxury online fashion than it might once have been.

Ward is a well-known proponent of British retail interests – Harrods is, after all, the ultimate tourist shopping destination, and he’s always keen to make it easier for tourists to come to the UK and part with their cash. Whether it’s calling for visa restrictions to be reduced or coming up with ways to market to tourists, Ward is clued up on the importance of tourist shoppers to UK retailers. Which means this summer is a big one for him, after London assumed its place at the centre of the world’s attention for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and will do again for the London 2012 Olympics. But the domestic market hasn’t been neglected either – Ward has introduced lower cost ranges to attract younger shoppers. If the aim is to keep Harrods relevant to today’s consumers, Ward is doing well.

47. Magnus Olsson

47 (2011 rank: 56)

Managing director UK and Ireland, H&M

Magnus Olsson

Magnus Olsson

Despite keeping a low profile, Magnus Olsson has managed to double the Swedish fashion giant’s store portfolio in the UK in his six years in charge. The UK business is going from strength to strength, and the country is one of H&M’s largest expansion targets in the year ahead – no surprise given the 19% UK sales jump in its last financial year.

Its celebrity partnerships have remained popular, driving footfall and helping H&M to stand out from the crowd. Olsson has also made the UK a hotbed for innovation for the global fashion powerhouse. Premium fascia Cos was launched here, as has quirky young fashion brand Monki, and it is also understood to be contemplating debuting its mysterious new chain, & Other Stories, in the UK next year.

48. Theo Paphitis

48 (2011 rank: 53)

Proprietor, Ryman and Boux Avenue

Theo Paphitis

Theo Paphitis

The tycoon might be best known for his appearances on TV show Dragons’ Den, but Theo Paphitis still makes waves in the day-to-day world of retail.

Ryman, the stationery business that he owns, has continued to do well and is developing its multichannel capability.

And Paphitis continues to make inroads into the hard fought lingerie market, with Boux Avenue making strides with a steady stream of store openings – including its first shop in the capital opening in April at Westfield London.

The opinionated entrepreneur has also been on the panel for the BBC’s Question Time and has spoken out on the measures he believes the Government must take to encourage business success.

He told Retail Week in April that job creation must be the main focus for the Government and expressed frustration with politicians, saying: “We’re at the sharp end while the politicians have never had a proper business job.”

49. Judith McKenna

Judith McKenna

Judith McKenna

49 (2011 rank: 91)

Chief operating officer, Asda

Since becoming chief operating officer last summer, Judith McKenna has been busy. She has overseen the integration of the Netto stores, played a key role in making Asda the top performer at Christmas in grocery, and launched the Asda Mumdex, a panel of 4,000 mothers, which has helped the grocer further cement its image as a champion of consumers’ interests. Now 18 years into working for Asda, she is tipped for a higher profile position within Walmart. That’s not to say she doesn’t already have considerable responsibility.

McKenna heads  Asda’s retail operations, including its stores and online, its distribution network and IT systems. Even as chief financial officer, she had responsibilities far beyond finance, including retail development, property, construction and the smaller supermarkets.

50. Laurie McIlwee


Chief financial officer, Tesco

Laurie Mcllwee

Laurie Mcllwee

Laurie McIlwee, who joined the grocer in 2000, dug deep this year to give chief executive Philip Clarke £1bn to revitalise the grocer’s UK stores. The figure outstripped estimates and was a gutsy move from McIlwee, who has had to manage investors – including tycoon Warren Buffett who ultimately backed the company.

McIlwee has gained considerable power as his peers – including David Potts, Richard Brasher and, imminently, Lucy Neville-Rolfe – have left the grocery giant.

McIlwee, 49, faces a critical year with all eyes on his management of Tesco’s purse strings – not only is it an important year for the grocer, but he’ll have to keep a close eye on the impact a possible Eurozone break up will have on the business.