Rose determined to steer 'lean and mean' M&S through crunch

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose has been credited with the revival of the high street giant, but has come under heavy pressure as trading turned sour during a torrid 2008.

But he showed his determination to steer a "lean and mean" M&S through the downturn by slashing costs - involving more than 1,200 possible job losses.

The potential annual saving of up to £200m lowers the chances of a dividend cut - and further riling the investors with which Sir Stuart clashed last year.

Nearly a quarter of shareholders who voted failed to back him last July over his controversial dual role as executive chairman at the helm of M&S.

His role - combining chairman and chief executive - has raised the ire of many investors as it breaches corporate best practice.

Questions were also raised over the hiring and subsequent firing little more than a year later of former Waitrose man Steve Esom, who paid the price for M&S's poor food showing last July.

Meanwhile the group's share price tumbled nearly 60% last year, to little more than half the 400p a share bid from billionaire retailer Sir Philip Green he fought off soon after joining in 2004.

Sir Stuart shrugged off speculation over his future today, saying: "If this was an aeroplane flying through a storm the best thing to do is not to nip up the front and change the pilot."

On taking the helm, he brought in key talent to drive a revival of M&S clothing ranges, with the George Davies-designed Per Una fashion brand hailed as one of its greatest successes.

He commissioned advertising campaigns, featuring the likes of supermodels Twiggy, Erin O'Connor and singer Myleene Klass, which brought M&S back to life on the high street until last year's downturn.

Although the group has just endured its worst quarter since 1999, at least Sir Stuart is not beginning this year with a profits warning - unlike 2008. His efforts to take a grip of the business also impressed some City analysts.

Panmure Gordon's Philip Dorgan said: "This cost reduction gives M&S an enormous war chest to survive the recession."

Keith Bowman, equities analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said 2008 was "an awful year" but added: "I think investors are happy to stay with him for the time being - to some degree the problems affecting retailers are across the board.

"He has got experience and is generally well-respected...and he has underlined his determination to see the business through its current difficulties."

Sir Stuart's own M&S journey started in 1972 when he began his retail career as a management trainee.

The following 17 years saw the son of a civil servant hold a variety of roles in textiles and food, eventually becoming commercial director heading the company's European division in Paris.

Following his "apprenticeship" at M&S he started seven years with the Burton Group in 1989, which later split into Debenhams and the Arcadia group.

He had earlier been a buying and merchandising director at Debenhams and two years later he became a managing director at Dorothy Perkins.

In 1994, he was appointed to the firm's board and became chief executive of Burton Menswear, Evans, Dorothy Perkins and Principles.

He left the Burton Group in late 1997 and in January 1998 he was appointed chief executive of Argos.

In September 1998 he became chief executive of Booker, one of the UK's largest food distributors. In May 2000, Booker announced a merger with Iceland, and Rose was appointed chief executive of the enlarged business.

But it was when he joined Arcadia as chief executive in November 2000 that he cemented his reputation as a major player by turning around the company which was lumbered with more than £250 million debt when he joined.

Sir Stuart presided over the sale of Arcadia to Philip Green for £855 million in 2002, making £25 million out of the deal himself.