M&S marketing director to be `heir apparent'

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MARKS & SPENCER'S new marketing director will be one of the main candidates to become chief executive of the high street giant when chief executive Peter Salsbury retires.

The offer of a shot at the top job in British retailing, part of a pounds 250,000 a year package put to the outside candidate, caps a six-month search for a marketing director.

The new executive will be the first person to hold that job title in the retailer's 105-year history, and will also be the only senior board executive who has not spent most of their career with M&S. The appointment will be announced within the next two weeks, a spokesman for M&S said yesterday.

The offer of "heir apparent" status will be the most significant element of the appointment, according to sources close to M&S, who admit that the process of finding an appropriate candidate has been more difficult than anticipated.

It is believed that at least one candidate has already turned the job down. "It has got to be the right person, and there is not a lot of retail talent out there," said one M&S executive.

The move to put the new marketing chief on the fast track to the top job is also designed to allow the board a clear choice between an M&S "insider" and a candidate with significant experience elsewhere, when the chief executive job falls vacant again sometime in the next decade.

Mr Salsbury, 49, who joined M&S as a graduate trainee, was appointed chief executive in January following a public boardroom rift last November between the company's then chairman and chief executive, Sir Richard Greenbury, and deputy chairman Keith Oates over the issue of management succession. Mr Oates resigned in January, while Sir Richard retired as chairman in June. A search is also being conducted for a new chairman.

The new marketing director, who cannot be named until a contract is signed and notice handed in to their current employer, will report directly to Mr Salsbury.

He or she will oversee a pounds 60m annual marketing budget. The first job will be to get to grips with M&S's crucial Christmas trading period, which proved disastrous last year and precipitated the top-level management changes.