Peace to take over from Lord Wolfson at GUS executive

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The Independent Online

GREAT UNIVERSAL Stores, Britain's biggest home shopping group, appointed its first chief executive in its 100-year history yesterday, paving the way for the Wolfson family to hand over the reins.

GREAT UNIVERSAL Stores, Britain's biggest home shopping group, appointed its first chief executive in its 100-year history yesterday, paving the way for the Wolfson family to hand over the reins.

John Peace will become chief executive from January next year. Mr Peace, 50, has been with GUS since 1970 and is head of Experian, the company's financial information business.

Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, the latest in a string of family members to run the company, will remain full-time executive chairman though he is likely to take a back seat in the next few years. "As I shall be 64 this year, we have been addressing the issue of succession planning," he said. On the question of his future role he added: "I doubt I will be a non-executive chairman but I may become part-time."

Some institutional investors have expressed concerns that GUS is "a one man band" which is over-reliant on Lord Wolfson's skills. Lord Wolfson admitted that the company had not sought an external candidate but said initial consultations with head hunters had identified Mr Peace as an ideal choice.

Mr Peace would not comment on his plans for the group, which has been linked with a possible de-merger of its Experian business. However, the City will be interested to know his plans for the core home-shopping business, which has been trading poorly and is in a sector facing long-term decline. GUS shares have lost almost half their value since the early part of the year.

Analysts said Mr Peace was something of an unknown quantity in the City. "We don't know much about him," one said.

The present GUS dynasty started in 1932 when Isaac Wolfson became a director, having joined the company after a chance meeting at a Manchester trade fair. Lord Wolfson became chairman three years ago after a number of years as chairman of Next, the high street fashion retailer. Since 1996 he has tried to shake up the sleepy group with a string of acquisitions including the £1bn takeover of Experian and the £1.9bn hostile takeover of Argos.

But its Burberry division has been badly affected by the Asia crisis. Its core agency mail-order business is facing increasing competition as retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Arcadia move into home shopping while existing players such as Next continue to expand.

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