Wolfson's son in line of fire

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Next's decision to appoint the 29-year-old son of Lord Wolfson, chairman, to its main board was questioned at the fashion retailer's annual meeting yesterday. One shareholder asked for more information on the business experience of Mr Wolfson, who has only six years' business experience and has never worked outside the company.

Sue Mastriforte, a long-standing Next shareholder, asked Lord Wolfson: "Perhaps you could tell us about the experience Simon has. We are going to have to vote on it and there is very little information here."

Lord Wolfson passed the question to David Jones, chief executive, saying his own response "might be prejudicial one way or another". Mr Jones's explanation of Mr Wolfson's contribution to the Next success story satisfied most shareholders and Mr Wolfson's appointment was passed without opposition.

However, Ms Mastriforte remained unimpressed. After the meeting she said: "I'm very angry about his son being on the board. He has never worked outside Next. At 29 he doesn't know enough to be a main board director.

"If daddy didn't have 100,000 shares in the company, would he have got this leg up?

"It [Mr Wolfson's appointment] is not doing the boy any good. He will never know how much of his success is due to his father. I don't like nepotism."

Mr Jones had earlier given more detailed information on Mr Wolfson's experience. He said Mr Wolfson had joined the company in 1991 as a sales consultant. After three months he produced a report. As a result of that, Mr Jones took him on as his personal assistant. He became retail director in 1993 and was then promoted to head of marketing for the Next brand.

Speaking about his appointment Mr Wolfson said: "My age is not the issue. The question is am I competent to do the job?" He said shareholders should have confidence in him as he had been doing the job for a year and a half and had introduced several successful changes.

Mr Jones said: "Next is my life. There is no way I would have made the appointment if I had thought it would jeopardise the business in any way."

Next shares jumped 26p to a high of 720p yesterday on an upbeat trading statement. Next said the performance in the first 14 weeks was in line with the last statement which showed that sales in Next retail were 19 per cent ahead of last year.

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