Next faces City backlash over top job for Wolfson

Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, the chairman of Next, yesterday risked accusations of nepotism after his son was promoted to the main board of the pounds 2bn retail empire at the age of just 29.

The controversial appointment means Simon Wolfson is almost certainly the youngest director of an FTSE 100 company. He joins a small band of young businessmen who have been promoted to the boards of large companies by powerful fathers. Others include Robert Hanson at the Hanson conglomerate and the late Simon Weinstock at GEC.

The young scion of the Wolfson dynasty has never worked outside Next and has only six years' business experience. He will be one of just five executive directors at the company with responsibility for sales and marketing as well as the development of the Next brand.

His appointment is another example of the continuing close links between Next and Great Universal Stores, the mail order giant. Lord Wolfson, 61, is chairman of both companies, having taken over from his cousin at the helm of GUS in September.

Next's institutional investors and City analysts expressed concern at the new appointment, saying it "left a bad odour" and could backfire.

One of Next's largest shareholders said: "On the surface it does seem a bit unusual. But Next has made such progress since it clawed itself back from the brink that you tend to give it the benefit of the doubt."

Another fund manager at a big institution was more doubtful. "Things like this normally leave a rather bad smell. I would think there would be a certain amount of disquiet about it."

Retail analysts said the young Wolfson was unknown in the City and had never appeared at Next's presentations to analysts.

Nick Bubb of MeesPierson said: "I'm told he's very capable and that David Jones [Next's chief executive] thinks highly of him. But given the accusations about nepotism one would have thought that they would want to be doubly sure of his abilities."

Mr Jones said the company had been conscious that the appointment might attract suggestions of nepotism. But he said: "It was not the chairman's appointment, it was mine. Simon's introduction to the company and his promotion have been at my instigation. He is an outstanding young man and if you don't look after your young people, you lose them."

The appointment was proposed by Mr Jones and his fellow executive directors at a board meeting last Thursday, then approved by the entire board.

Mr Jones said he was surprised that Mr Wolfson appeared to be unknown to the City. "Over the past 12 to 18 months he has been exposed to retail analysts and shareholders. He is pretty well known to the majority of institutional shareholders and analysts."

Mr Wolfson joined Next in 1991 when he was 23. His first job was as sales manager of Next Retail, which then had 312 stores. When Next combined the retail division with the mail order division, Next Directory, in 1993 Mr Wolfson became sales and marketing director of the Next brand.

His 900,000 shares in the company were worth pounds 5.07m at last night's closing price of 563.5p, down a penny. He also has options over a further 60,000 shares exercisable at prices between 237p-530p.

Next appeared conscious of the potential storm Mr Wolfson's appointment could create by issuing the bare minimum of information. The Stock Exchange statement ran to only a few sentences.

Comment, page 19

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas