New Look's Sunnucks set to join M&S shortlist

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Stephen Sunnucks will potentially free himself this week to join the shortlist of candidates selected to head Marks & Spencer's troubled clothing division, when he steps down as chief executive of the New Look fashion shops group.

His departure is expected alongside confirmation that the independent directors at the womenswear retailer have recommended a bid from its founder, Tom Singh, that could value it at up to £700m.

Mr Sunnucks has been jostling with other contenders such as Kim Winser, the chief executive of Pringle, Mike Sharp, Debenhams's trading director, and Belinda Earl, Debenhams's former boss, for the M&S job, upon which the retailer's faltering recovery rests. An M&S spokeswoman said yesterday that no decision had been made.

The appointment of Mr Sunnucks would mark his return to M&S, where he began his retail career. After six years at New Look he is understood to be keen to tackle a different challenge. In any case, Mr Singh is anxious to take a more hands-on role at New Look.

Although New Look's 5 per cent fall in underlying sales over Christmas prompted some analysts to warn that Permira and Apax Partners, the two private equity groups backing the bid, could seek to lower their 348p-a-share offer, it is understood the retailer's non-executive directors have insisted on the earlier price tag.

Mr Singh, who controls 28 per cent of New Look through a family shareholding, put the group in play last July when he said he was reviewing options for his stake. But he has failed to flush out any other bidders since then.