Andy Bond, the chief executive of Asda, yesterday ruled himself out of the running for the same role at Marks & Spencer, as the grocer unveiled a "significant" initiative, including webcams in its food factories, to make its business more transparent.
Mr Bond said: "I'm not interested. I'm not going to M&S – end of story."
His exit from the race to succeed Sir Stuart Rose, who is also M&S's chairman, further narrows down the field of external candidates after the chief executives of Sainsbury and Morrisons, Justin King and Marc Bolland, also in effect committed themselves to their companies recently.
The categorical comment from Mr Bond is also a setback for the headhunter firm JCA, which is handling the search, and was a surprise given his remarks recently about the role.
In July, Mr Bond said: "I would imagine there would be a very short list [at M&S], and I would imagine I would be qualified to do the job."
As part of a series of transparency initiatives yesterday, Asda said it would put web cameras in its food factories and get customers involved in deciding which products it introduces. The grocer will also open a store in Gorseinon, South Wales, next year that will have glass walls to show customers what is going on in the background.
Mr Bond said the changes were in response to a "new age of democratic consumerism" that has emerged out of the digital explosion in information sharing and a "trust vacuum" during the credit crunch. He added: "Events over the past year mean that faith in big businesses is lower than it's ever been, because people have stopped trusting what's going on behind closed doors. So, from today, there is no 'behind the scenes' at Asda."
Asda outlined three core areas of its transparency strategy. First, the grocer's "Chosen by You" initiative will allow a group of 18,000 Asda shoppers to have regular input into decisions about which products go into stores.
Second, customers will be able to follow products from factories to the store on a blog, dubbed Aisle Spy, including live webcams in its carrot factory processing plant near Selby, North Yorkshire. The grocer has also deployed webcams in its headquarters in Leeds, and Mr Bond refused to rule out installing them in its boardroom.
He said: "Our aim is to put customers at the heart of our business in a way that's never been done before on this scale. There will be a fundamental shift of power, as we revolutionise our decision-making process."
Third, under the grocer's "Bright Ideas" scheme, customers who devise a money-saving activity will receive up to 5 per cent of the savings generated by Asda in the first year.
For example, if they come up with an idea that saves it £2m, they will get a cheque for £100,000, said Mr Bond. In a thinly veiled dig at Sainsbury's and Tesco's loyalty cards, he said: "It [loyalty] can't be bought with plastic points or money-off vouchers."
Top job in store: The runners and riders
Marks & Spencer has committed to hiring a new chief executive before the end of July 2010, but who is still in the race?
For a long time, Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury's, has been one of the leading candidates. Mr King joined the grocer when it was on its knees in March 2004 and has overseen a sustained turnaround, notably during the credit crunch when some industry experts thought it would suffer. Last month in a television interview, he said: "I've said many, many times I'm thoroughly enthusiastic about Sainsbury's. I see my future at Sainsbury's."
Similarly, Marc Bolland, the Dutchman who became chief executive at Morrisons in September 2006, has turned around the fortunes of the Bradford-based grocer. Last month, he said: "I love Morrisons, I am happy here."
Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, has also been touted by other retail chiefs as a prime candidate. But in September, he said he was not interested in working for another retailer.
Among those yet to rule themselves out is Kate Swann, who is at the helm of WHSmith. She is highly rated by the City for getting the stationery retailer's profits heading in the right direction after taking tough decisions on its product range. However, her almost zero media profile and lack of clothing experience could count against her.
Charles Wilson, the chief executive of Booker, worked with Sir Stuart Rose at M&S for a short time before he joined the cash and carry company in 2005.
He was executive director of IT, logistics and property at M&S and is known for being a sharp operator.
John Dixon, the executive director of food at M&S, is arguably now the leading internal candidate.
Formerly the executive assistant to Sir Stuart, Mr Dixon has risen through the ranks and has received the plaudits for getting the retailer's food division heading in the right direction since 2008. In another feather in Mr Dixon's cap, M&S posted flat second-quarter food sales – its best performance for two years.Reuse content