Gent in demand as boards seek to fill top jobs

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The Independent Online

A bidding battle could develop for the services of Sir Christopher Gent, the former chief executive of Vodafone, after it emerged that he has been in talks with GlaxoSmithKline about becoming a director of the company.

He is also tipped as a possible successor to Luc Vandevelde at Marks & Spencer, and has considerable support among the troubled retailer's non-executives.

Sir Christopher, considered one of the most effective chief executives of recent years, is thought to have had detailed discussions with GSK about becoming a non-executive director as a precursor to taking over as chairman once Sir Christopher Hogg steps down before next year's annual meeting.

GSK would not comment on the talks, although weekend reports said they were at an "advanced stage".

However, the pharmaceuticals group is not thought to be in a position to announce his arrival at its annual meeting today. In contrast to last year's dramatic vote against GSK's remuneration policy, this year's meeting is expected to see far more muted criticism.

Shareholders believe Sir Christopher would be an effective counter-balance to GSK's powerful chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier. GSK could have trouble clinching the deal because of M&S's interest in him.

However, the M&S board seems divided about the type of person they want as a replacement for Mr Vandevelde, who has bowed to shareholder pressure to step down because he has too many other work commitments to focus properly on reviving the fortunes of the high street giant.

Vittorio Radice, M&S's increasingly powerful director of clothing and homeware, suggested last week he wanted someone with retailing experience to occupy the seat.

"I want someone with heart, personality and warmth," he said, in apparent contrast to speculation that M&S's chief executive, Roger Holmes - a management consultant by training - favours a prominent figure in the City.

As well as Sir Christopher Hogg's planned departure from GSK next year, three further non-executives are due to retire from the board today. They are Michele Barzach, the former French health minister; Donald McHenry, a professor at Georgetown University; and John McArthur, a senior adviser to the president of the World Bank.

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