The Business On... Robert Swannell, Chairman, Marks & Spencer

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A case of 'the king is dead, long live the king'?

Sort of. Mr Swannell's first day as chairman of Marks & Spenceryesterday marked the end of Sir Stuart Rose's period at the company. Having stepped down as chiefexecutive a year ago, Sir Stuart is now leaving Britain's best-known retailer altogether.

He'll be a tough act to follow

Indeed, though Mr Swannell is unlikely to try to follow his predecessor's penchant for flamboyance and frankness. He's a different kettle of fish altogether, having spent 33 years working for blue-blooded investment banks.

He doesn't sound like a natural M&S customer?

Maybe not, but he does know the retailer well, having worked closely with Sir Stuart in 2004 to see off the unwanted attentions of Sir Philip Green, who wanted to but M&S. He's been the retailer's investment banker ever since.

But does he have the common touch?

He doesn't need it – he's going to be chairman, not lead designer of the spring collection. What he brings is City experience and respect – he's a veteran of some of the biggestcorporate deals of the past two decades, from the sales of Pilkington and P&O to Roman Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea.

Is M&S likely to be at the centre of any M&A itself?

It's unlikely, but never say never – the company has been linked with a bid for online grocer Ocado, for example. Either way Mr Swannell is a safe pair of hands.

No rebellious streaks at all?

Well, he's also chairman of HMV, the music retailer, and when it appointed him to the post two years ago, itsuggested Mr Swannell was a big fan of Bob Dylan.

The times they are a-changing?

In some ways, yes. But there is no denying that Mr Swannell is about as establishment as they come. He even chairs the governing body of Rugby School, his alma mater.