M&S manages winning formula

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The Independent Online
Marks & Spencer, widely regarded as Britain's leading retailer, is also the nation's best managed company, according to the second annual British Quality of Management Awards.

The awards, sponsored by Sundridge Park Management Centre and research company Mori, are decided through polls of nearly 300 captains of industry, City institutions and business journalists. The objective is to demonstrate what the organisers call the vital link between sustaining growth in shareholder value and enhancing the quality of management in wealth-creating companies.

All three categories voted M&S a clear winner, ahead of last year's leader, BTR, and British Airways, which came second and third respectively.

ICI was an equally obvious winner of the Quality of Governance Award, introduced this year to the delight of Sir Adrian Cadbury, who presented the awards at a ceremony at London's Stationers Hall last week. The award would encourage the City and the media to keep the idea of corporate governance alive, he said.

These companies - which in total receive prizes worth more than £125,000 in the form of management development programmes at Sundridge Park in south London and boardroom presentations of key Mori City surveys - have plenty of reason to feel proud of their achievements. But - as the fact that two out of the three management award winners also collected prizes last year suggests - they appear to be part of a small elite. Furthermore, as Sundridge Park chief executive, John Chadwick, pointed o ut, the three audiences rated British management weak in 12 of the 18 criteria selected by Sundridge Park as amounting to an appropriate test of quality.

These criteria range from strategic thinking and leadership, through innovation and risk-taking to brand and people development.

Roger Stubbs, chairman of Mori Financial, added that it was "also noteworthy that there is little agreement between the three groups as to which criteria are the most important and which we are best at". Ironically, all three groups only agree that British industry is best at what it rates least important.

Mr Chadwick said it was "no doubt significant" that M&S's profile showed that the most important criteria of strategic thinking, brand development and general management skills were well to the fore. With these closely followed by people development, po s itive culture and investment planning, it was a "very clear and worthy winner".

But in commenting on the company's improvement on last year's second place, M&S chairman, Sir Richard Greenbury, made it clear which factor he regarded as most important.

"The most critical challenge facing us today is the development of the quality of people needed to manage an increasingly large and complex international business. Our consistent growth and success has largely been due to our meeting this challenge," he

said.

Sir Denys Henderson, chairman of ICI, said when accepting the governance award that the presence of good independent directors had been of great benefit to the company's decision-making over the years.

They had been especially valuable in adding to the system of checks and balances and in curbing executive zeal in "the thrill of the chase".

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