Marc Bolland, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, pulled off a massive coup yesterday by poaching a highly regarded director from Tesco to lead its global assault on online shopping.
The high street bellwether has hired Laura Wade-Gery, the chief executive of Tesco.com and Tesco Direct, as the executive director of multi-channel e-commerce and she will sit on its main board. Only last month, Tesco promoted Ms Wade-Gery to the job of commercial director for UK clothing, electricals and general merchandise.
Her defection to M&S is a major blow for the supermarket's chief executive-designate, Philip Clarke.
She was due to take up her new role at Tesco next month when the restructure of the grocer's senior team takes place and the chief executive Sir Terry Leahy hands the baton over to Mr Clarke, its head of international.
The hiring of Ms Wade-Gery is a huge signal of intent for the online ambitions of M&S under Mr Bolland, who took the helm in May after leaving Morrisons supermarkets.
Tony Shiret, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said: "I think it is a great appointment. I don't know her personally, but to have made it to the UK Tesco board and to be well-thought of in Tesco, she is obviously the quality of person they need at M&S."
M&S refused to say what her salary or bonus package will be or when she will start.
Ms Wade-Gery said: "I am really looking forward to joining the team. M&S is an iconic brand and has huge potential to develop a multi-channel offering for its customers."
Tesco moved quickly to fill the position by appointing Per Bank, the chief executive of Tesco Hungary, as head of non-food, the role Ms Wade-Gery was due to take up next month.
Mr Bolland said the appointment of Ms Wade-Gery was "in line with the plans we announced last November to grow our multi-channel e-commerce business both in the UK and internationally. Laura brings a wealth of experience to M&S".
When he unveiled his strategy for M&S in November, Mr Bolland vowed to increase its global online sales to between £800m and £1bn by 2014 – double the £413m it achieved in the year to March 2010.
A key drive will be expanding the retailer's online sales abroad. While it delivers non-food items ordered on the web to 80 countries, M&S plans to start introducing dedicated local websites in key countries during the next year. One option would be to launch a website initially focused on a flagship store in a foreign city, then gradually expand farther afield.
The internet giant Amazon provides M&S's website infrastructure but the retailer will build its own platform from 2013. The hiring of Ms Wade-Gery will fuel speculation that M&S plans to launch an online grocery operation to take on Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Ocado. M&S has a limited online grocery, which includes catering services and business lunches. It has been linked to a bid for Ocado but market sources have dismissed such rumours. The executive search firm Spencer Stuart helped place Ms Wade-Gery at M&S.