News Analysis: M&S goes shopping worldwide for a new chairman

City hopes Sir Richard Greenbury's successor will be `a cross between Moses and Attila the Hun'

IN THE past, appointing a chairman to the Marks & Spencer board was simple: find an available member of the founding Sieff family and let him mind the store. The traditional model of a hands-on M&S chairman became so entrenched that even the reign of Sir Richard Greenbury, the first non-family holder, did not disrupt it.

All that is to change. Following Sir Richard's abrupt departure after a collapse in trading and a boardroom row, the company is desperately seeking a non-executive chairman to oversee the recovery with new chief executive Peter Salsbury. Whithead Mann, the headhunting firm, has been appointed. The search, it says, will be global.

But what sort of person would the City like? Do analysts and fund managers want a retailer or an established plc man from beyond the high street? Do they want a UK figurehead or someone from overseas? The City's views are vital as M&S needs to repair its reputation in the Square Mile.

M&S says it is looking for "a combination of talents and a track record of delivery in a major organisation". It wants the chairman "to work with the board to take the company into the future successfully".

The City sees the job as rather less conciliatory. "The ideal chairman would be well-respected, diplomatic and have the guts to sack a chief executive," one analyst says. Another suggests the man will be "a cross between Moses and Attila the Hun".

The reason a tough guy is needed, one analyst says, is because "M&S does not need a makeover, but a revolution". There are still some concerns that after spending all his working life at M&S, Mr Salsbury might find it hard to be sufficiently ruthless.

The core of the City view is this: the chairman must come from outside the company and introduce a number of new executives not weighed down by the historical baggage of the Baker Street culture.

The logical extension of this, confirmed by M&S's claim that it is "casting the net globally", is that the new chairman might come from overseas. As the general analysts' view holds that the post could only be filled by an English speaker, this points squarely to the US.

Others say appointing a chairman from overseas might prove difficult given that M&S's business is still dominated by UK sales, and an oversees appointment might jar with the company's peculiar culture.

A home-grown candidate seems likely, then, but there are pitfalls. A strong chairman should not be seen as a potential vote of no confidence in Mr Salsbury. Archie Norman, the Asda chairman, is favoured but might struggle on this score. His record at Asda and overall standing make him an obvious choice, but as one analyst put it: "It easy to imagine quite a bit of tension with Salsbury... It would be frustrating for him [Mr Norman] not to be in full control."

Other possibles from retail include Lord MacLaurin, the former Tesco chairman, and Lord Blyth, who retires from Boots next summer. Neither is a free agent yet, but they seem to fit the profile. Analysts say they are valid choices, but warn difficulties could arise if neither is ready to "go native" with M&S's culture.

But some fund-managers take the view that as the practical side of the turnaround is covered by the executive team, there is no compelling reason a non-executive chairman should come from retail. "It would no doubt be useful if there was some kind of consumer experience," said one, "but it is conceivable that M&S might benefit from a chairman with a marketing, banking or even accountancy background." Some say that Sir Dominic Cadbury, the chairman of Cadbury Schweppes, may be in the frame.

Another mentioned is Sir Peter Davis, head of Prudential, whose financial credentials give him the heavyweight status required. Sir William Purves, former HSBC chairman, comes up for similar reasons. Some even say Sir Nigel Rudd, the Williams and Pilkington chairman, might figure.

As one analyst sees it, however, more important than the choice of chairman is setting out his exact role as a hands-off player. "The chairman should leave the job of sorting M&S out to the executive directors, and get on with running the board. What M&S needs is a past master at explaining everything very clearly to all interested parties."

This view finds support with fund managers. "M&S is a very special case. It is such a household name, so much a part of British life, that the job of chairman would almost be right for a politician," one says. Someone like Sir Leon Brittan, potentially free from his EU post from September, could appeal, although he is a rank outsider.

Finding a candidate willing to take on the challenge will not be easy. As analysts say: "At the moment there is no particular upside in becoming chairman of M&S." Kick-starting a flagging image could take more than a knighthood and a smile.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz