Stuart Rose favourite for M&S job

Stuart Rose, the former boss of Arcadia, yesterday emerged as the frontrunner to become Marks & Spencer's next chairman as the troubled retailer confirmed that Luc Vandevelde was stepping down.

Stuart Rose, the former boss of Arcadia, yesterday emerged as the frontrunner to become Marks & Spencer's next chairman as the troubled retailer confirmed that Luc Vandevelde was stepping down.

Mr Rose, who sold Arcadia to Philip Green in 2002, is known to be keen on returning to M&S, where he worked earlier in his career. According to the City spreadbetting firm, Cantor Index, the odds on Mr Rose's appointment shortened throughout the day, ending at 11/8.

Shareholders in M&S hailed Mr Vandevelde's decision to step aside. Robert Talbut, of Isis Asset Management, said: "We think it has been increasingly apparent that [Mr Vandevelde] has been spreading himself a bit too thinly and that the transformation of M&S required more involvement from the chairman."

Although Mr Vandevelde had come under increasing fire for not spending enough time at the company he was hired to turn around, the company yesterday insisted it had not asked him to leave. Brian Baldock, M&S's senior independent director, said: "It is nonsense to suggest that Luc Vandevelde has been 'forced out' of Marks & Spencer."

The company said Mr Vandevelde's decision to leave, which comes two months after he joined the board of the French retail giant Carrefour, had been prompted by "personal commitments" made to Carrefour's 11 per cent shareholder, the Halley family. It is understood that Mr Vandevelde, who left Carrefour to run M&S in 2000, had promised to look after the Halley family's interests in the event that anything happened to one of them. Last December, Paul Louis Halley, who co-founded Promodes, the French retailer Carrefour bought in 1999, died in a plane crash.

M&S is anxious to replace Mr Vandevelde ahead of its annual meeting on 14 July. But it he would stay on "for as long as necessary to establish his successor". Richard Hymen, at the Verdict retail consultancy, said Mr Rose "goes to the top of the list" of potential candidates. Archie Norman, the Conservative MP who rescued Asda, is understood not to be interested, while Sir Derek Higgs, the UBS investment banker, said he "wouldn't rule himself in or out". M&S shares fell 7p to 270p.

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