Boots chiefs contest top job

Boots has revealed its succession plans with the announcement that chief executive Lord Blyth will assume the role of chairman role in 1998 while two joint managing directors have been appointed with immediate effect.

The two joint managing directors who will battle it out for the top job are Steve Russell, 51, managing director of Boots the Chemists, and David Thompson, 53, finance director. Sir Michael Angus, chairman, who was due to have stepped down from the role in July next year, will extend his term to 1998.

Boots said the new structure paved the way for a smooth succession as Lord Blyth, 57, nears retirement. However, with two men placed in positions of equal power beneath him it seems clear that a power struggle is in prospect.

Mr Thompson is well known in the City and has been on the board since 1990. But the re-shuffle marks another big promotion for Mr Russell who was appointed to the board only last year. Previously managing director of Do It All, the DIY business, he became head of Boots the Chemist in 1995.

The final piece in the succession jigsaw is that Brian Whalan, the managing director of Halfords is retiring early for personal reasons.

Lord Blyth's elevation to the chairmansip in 1998 means he will have been chief executive of the retail giant for 11 years. This period included the disastrous Ward White acquisition in 1989 which brought with it the troublesome Payless DIY chain as well as Halfords and the Fads and Homestyle decoration businesses.

City analysts said the changes should ensure a smooth transition. "It will not have any immediate impact on the running of the company. It is really just saying these are two favourites for the top job," said John Richards of NatWest Securities. Analysts said the two joint managing directors were unlikely to get in each other's way.

Comment, page 21

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