M&S's Rose could go early, as he defends £15m Bolland

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Sir Stuart Rose hinted yesterday that he may step down early from the chairman's role at Mark's & Spencer, as he launched a robust defence of the £15m that the incoming chief executive, Marc Bolland, could pocket in his first year.

Sir Stuart said: "My drop dead date is 31 July 2011, but I will probably go a bit earlier than that."

However, he stressed that the high-street giant had not begun the process to find a new chairman yet, and it is thought to be unlikely that he will leave this calendar year.

On Tuesday, M&S's current deputy chairman, Sir David Michels, ruled himself out of the running for the chairman role.

The new chairman will have to work with Marc Bolland, the former chief executive of the grocer Morrisons, who joins M&S on 1 May. Controversially, Mr Bolland could earn up to £14.8m in his first year, if he hits the highest performance targets, although more than half of this –£7.5m – relates to M&S picking up the tab for bonuses and share options that the Dutchman accrued at Morrisons.

Sir Stuart defended the package for Mr Bolland, who will start with a basic salary of £975,000, insisting that he was the "absolutely the right man".

He added: "We needed someone who can grow the business, and Marc has international experience, and proven experience in running a business. He ticks most boxes and at the end of the day we chose the best candidate."

Sir Stuart said that if the former Morrisons chief helps M&S to double its market capitalisation from £5bn to £10bn, the rewards would be "value for money" for shareholders and employees.

The chairman also hinted that he planned to extend the M&S brand into different categories, citing telephone and broadband, as Tesco has done. Sir Stuart said: "We have been a bit slower than Tesco. Our brand is capable of taking you from the cradle to the grave."

He added that M&S should be targeting growing its market share in the home category from today's 2.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent.