Grade takes chair at Ocado amid float talk

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The Independent Online

Michael Grade, the BBC chairman, is to become the first chairman of Ocado, the online grocery retailer started by three former Goldman Sachs' bankers four years ago.

His appointment represents a change of tack for the internet start-up, which has previously shunned the presence of outsiders in its boardroom. The choice of such a high-profile figurehead sparked speculation that Ocado is gearing up for a stock market flotation - something the retailer denied.

Mr Grade, who is also chairman of Pinewood Studios, said he already knew Ocado well as a shopper. "I'm a customer so the business had a good reputation in the Grade household," he said. The details of his package were not disclosed, although he said that if given the chance he would "think about" buying shares in Ocado.

The retailer, which sources its groceries from Waitrose, last sought extra cash from its existing investors in March when it raised £60m from shareholders who include Jorn Rausing, the Tetra Pak billionaire. The fundraising valued the group at about £500m.

Jason Gissing, Ocado's finance director and one of its three co-founders, said the decision to appoint a chairman was "just the next step in our journey". He said the company was "in no hurry" to seek a stock market listing, adding: "We have no immediate need. It's just another option [to raise more cash] in the same way we could go to our bankers or issue more equity to our existing investors."

Although Mr Grade does not bring any retail experience, Tim Steiner, Ocado's chief executive, said the group would relish his "media savvy" in helping the retailer communicate with its customers.

Mr Grade, who is stepping down as chairman of Hemscott after the recent sale of the financial information provider to its biggest shareholder, said he would spend a "manageable amount of time" on Ocado business, adding there was "nothing planned at all" regarding a possible initial public offering.