Outlook: Sir Richard Greenbury gets his Oates
Friday 27 November 1998
Sir Richard has had to throw something to the mob, so it's been the executive bit of his continued role as chairman. Given his character, Sir Rick can none the less be expected to act very much as an executive non-executive for his remaining eighteen months.
The battle for the succession has been a messy affair - most un-Marks & Spencer-like - but perhaps too much has been read into it. A severe downturn in trading, combined with the launch of an overly ambitious expansion programme, gave Mr Oates the opportunity he needed to challenge Sir Rick's previously uncontested rule.
Marks & Spencer has lost its way, and Sir Rick his touch, Mr Oates was able to whisper, and he found a receptive ear among some non executives and City investors. But in truth the case was so far from being made that Mr Oates never really stood a chance. He played his hand and who can blame him, but Sir Rick was always going to have his way.
The turnround in perceptions about M&S has been a swift and to some extent unjustified one. It was little more than a year ago that on the back of bumper sales and profits the group launched an extraordinarily ambitious expansion programme - to grow the business by a third in just four years. This was always going to need a change of structure at the top, including a splitting of the role of chairman and chief executive.
But even with the downturn and the consequent reigning back of the store expansion programme, it was never apparent that M&S needed root and branch reform. To be forced to go outside for a chief executive would indeed have been an admission of failure.
That said, M&S as much as any company would benefit from a fresh perspective, and when Sir Rick comes finally to hang up his gun, his successor as non- executive chairman probably should come from outside the company.
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