Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose told the Retail Week Conference that he had three objectives. “I’d like to see the business have a clear passage through the slowdown, to have a coherent plan for here and overseas and a seamless and successful transition to new leadership,” he said.

Referring to the various difficulties M&S has faced since the late 1990s to the present, Rose said: “We’ve had a torrid time, a lost decade and we live in a tough, attritional world.”

Rose will remain in his role until July 2011 unless he leaves the company early. He said: “I’ve got a sell-by date, like our food.”

He defended his achievements at Marks & Spencer since his arrival in 2004 and said: “If anybody seriously thinks M&S in 2009 is the same as in 2004 they obviously have a very poor memory.”

He dismissed recent criticism from Credit Suisse analyst Tony Shiret. He said: “Anybody who has time to write a 104-page note isn’t very busy. I haven’t read the note.”

Rose said he did not know how long the recession would last, but that concern about unemployment would be a key determinant of confidence.