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Rose's successors gather at the post

As Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose unveils his new senior team, what does this succession planning mean for the future leadership of M&S?

Marks & Spencer laid out its long-term master plan last week, providing a glimpse into “what life after Stuart” might well look like.

With two new directors joining the fray - Waitrose boss Steven Esom as director of food and De Vere Group chief executive Carl Leaver as director of international business - the runners have been positioned to prove their worth during the remainder of Rose’s tenure.

“The next Stuart is in that bunch,” says Oriel Securities analyst Jonathan Pritchard. “They are being given the opportunity to do it. It’s a chance to step up to the plate.”

Pritchard believes Esom, Leaver, womenswear chief Kate Bostock and retail director Guy Farrant are the four to watch, but adds that an outsider could well enter the race.

Finding someone with a mix of food and fashion retail experience would be the dream candidate. But it is no surprise that some of the outsiders mentioned by analysts and industry sources include Morrisons boss Marc Bolland and Sainsbury’s chief Justin King, who spent three years at M&S.

Although Rose has said he will stay at the helm until at least 2009, last week’s reshuffle was about creating a strong team beneath him, with staff who are loyal to the retailer.

Bostock’s promotion recognises her womenswear achievements. It will help to smooth over any damage caused by the failed attempt to bring in Tesco clothing chief executive Terry Green to an overarching clothing role, sitting below Rose.

As Rose, 57, told Drapers last week, he is “not getting younger”. Early succession planning is crucial to maintain City confidence in the retailer’s longer-term performance.

In an effort to get to grips with where each candidate stands, Drapers asked an anonymous industry expert for her view on who is best placed to take the top job. Financial spread betting business Cantor Index has come up with odds for each of the runners and riders that show it is far from being a one-horse race.


Guy Farrant, 45, formerly director of food, has been promoted to director of retail and outlets. He joined M&S in 1979, working in management roles. In 1985, he moved to head office as a food buyer and in 1993 became personal assistant to deputy chairman Keith Oates. By 1995, he was running the European food arm before taking the top food role last year.


“I don’t think Guy is the answer, He’s a long-term M&S man, but he doesn’t have the fashion skill set or the leadership track record. However, he’ll be very interesting to watch.”



Kate Bostock, 49, adds lingerie to her role as director of womenswear and girlswear. Bostock joined M&S in 2004 from supermarket giant Asda, where she had been product director for clothing range George since 2001. Prior o that, she was product director for childrenswear at Next.


“Kate is undoubtedly very talented - she was a designer before she moved into buying and has developed the sub-brands within the business. She is very commercial and I believe could do the job. Kate is my favourite bet.”



Group finance director Ian Dyson, 44, now has added responsibility for store design and development, and procurement. He joined M&S as group finance director in June 2005 from casino and gaming business Rank Group, where he was finance director. Dyson has considerable experience in the hospitality and leisure business that goes back to the Hilton Group and Le Meridien Hotels Group, where he held senior financial roles.


“My view of Ian is simple: you can’t have a finance guy running M&S.”



Steven Sharp, 56, is executive director for marketing and ecommerce, with responsibility for the next generation of store design. Sharp joined M&S in 2004 as part of Rose’s team of tried-and-tested former colleagues. His marketing excellence was already well known from top marketing roles that have included Arcadia, Debenhams and Asda.


“Steven is too old to be the next boss of M&S. He’s great at what he does, but he doesn’t have the breadth of experience needed. He’s been central to Stuart’s strategy but he’s not a successor.”



Director of food Steven Esom, 46, joins M&S from Waitrose, where he has been managing director since 2002. He started at Waitrose as director of buying in 1996. Prior to that, Esom had various roles at Sainsbury’s and top buying and merchandising roles at Ladbroke Group and Hilton International.


“Steven has done a brilliant job at Waitrose. My only hesitation is that he is not Mr Charisma - I wonder whether he has the leadership qualities to be chief executive of a public company. But he’s a close runner.”



Carl Leaver, 39, joins M&S as director of international business, after spending three years as chief executive of hotel business De Vere Group. Prior to that he held various roles at Whitbread between 1997 and 2003, including three years as managing director of Travel Inn.


“Carl has good customer, marketing and international skills and is a strong contender, but it depends how long he’s got. If we’re looking at two years down the line, I don’t think he will be ready. If Stuart stays in charge for another five years, he would be a real contender.”



John Dixon, 38, is director of ecommerce. He began his M&S career in UK store management in 1986 before taking on several European roles over a three-year period. He joined head office in 1992 as a food buyer, becoming an executive in 2002. In 2004, Dixon was picked to be Rose’s executive assistant, singling him out as one to watch. He was promoted to his current role earlier this year.


“If we are looking at a five-year plan, maybe John has a shot. As it is, nobody really knows him. He won’t be ready for the job in two years.”



An outside candidate would need unbeatable retail experience, potentially in both fashion and food, but more importantly proving themselves as a confident hand who can maintain the M&S revival. They could be a successful chief executive who is looking to make a name for themselves as the person who picked up where Rose left off.


“There’s every chance that an outside candidate will enter the race. They would need to be aged under 50 with a background in food and fashion. There are some who fit the bill perfectly, but I’m keeping quiet on my favourite for now.”

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