Thompson's job will be to restore the image of the group's Ernest Jones, H Samuel and Ratners shops in the wake of Gerald Ratner's unfortunate jokes. (For readers from another planet Ratner infamously disparaged one of his own products, a sherry decanter set, as 'total crap').
'For a marketing person I can't think of a better challenge,' she tells me. 'It's very sad that a comment like that can do as much damage as it did. It's the sort of thing the media won't let go. My job is to stop the rot.'
Thompson, 43, divorced with a 9 1/2 -year-old daughter and live-in housekeeper, is not your typical marketing smoothie. Born and raised in Batley, West Yorkshire, she only recently made it to the soft south. She has marketed petfood for the Co-op, wallpaper for ICI and wood varnish for Sterling Roncraft. She spent the early 1980s as a lecturer at Manchester Poly, simultaneously setting up an advertising agency, Thompson Maud Jones. She later sold out to her two partners. Before Woolies, she was MD of the British arm of Sandvik Saws & Tools.
She reckons being a woman in business is a positive advantage once you get to the top: 'People automatically assume you must be good to have got there,' she says, happily recalling a tool industry lunch at the Savoy - '299 men and me'.
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