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Martha Lane Fox offered job as chief of Selfridges empire

Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of lastminute.com, is to become the new head of the Selfridges empire, it was reported last night.

Miss Lane Fox, 30, has been offered a job as right-hand woman to Galen Weston, the Canadian billionaire who owns the Oxford Street flagship store as well as the Brown Thomas emporium in Dublin. Friends of Miss Lane Fox, who is currently on holiday in Australia, said she is about to accept and is "thrilled" about her new post, which is expected to be announced in mid-January.

In a move described as "one of the best kept secrets in retailing history", one of Mr Weston's senior executives explained that Allan Leighton, the Royal Mail chairman, had played a key role in her appointment.

The unnamed executive told The Sunday Telegraph: "Allan Leighton is chairman of lastminute.com and sits on the board of a number of Galen's companies, including Selfridges, and was instrumental in getting Martha on board. Obviously she will have a few ideas about developing their internet shopping activities, but it's her salesmanship and sheer verve that made him certain that she would be perfect. Galen, who is an old friend of Allan's, is thrilled by the turn of events."

Miss Lane Fox, who is set to earn "well into six figures" in her as yet unspecified role, will be employed by Wittington, one of the Weston family's holding companies. After being taught at Westminster School and studying ancient history at Magdalen College, Oxford, Miss Lane Fox considered becoming a prison governor but joined the management consultants Spectrum, where she met Brent Hoberman.

In 1998, the pair set up lastminute.com on a shoestring budget but it rapidly expanded, earning her a £30m fortune. She will remain a non-executive director and retain her 3.6 per cent stake in the internet firm.