Boots axes Rose from chief executive short list and homeopathy from stores

By Nigel Cope,City Editor
Thursday 13 February 2003 01:00

Boots, the struggling chemists chain, has decided not to appoint Stuart Rose as chief executive as it continues its search for a successor to Steve Russell. It is understood that Boots now has a short list but that the highly regarded former Arcadia chief executive is not on it.

It is also understood that none of the names linked with the job has made it on to the short list. These include Sara Weller, the joint managing director at J Sainsbury, Tim Mason, the marketing director at Tesco and Terry Duddy, the chief executive of the GUS-owned Argos retail group, which recently acquired the Homebase DIY chain.

One retail analyst said: "I think they've got somebody but they've not quite got them to sign on the dotted line yet."

Boots declined to comment on the progress of its search. Mr Rose also declined to comment, though it is thought he may still be interested in the role.

Boots is well behind its original schedule which had seen the company suggest it would make an announcement in January or February. Part of the reason is that the company is keen to avoid a situation in which there would be a long gap between naming its new chief executive and the new candidate's joining date.

One possible internal candidate for the job is Howard Dodd, who took over as finance director in April last year. He has made a series of changes since joining but lacks retail experience as his previous roles were at the pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca and the chemicals group ICI.

The other theory, according to one City analyst, is that Boots will go for someone "a bit left-field" as Marks & Spencer did with Luc Vandevelde.

The chances of Mr Rose securing the chief executive role have been fading since it became clear that regular contact between the two parties had ceased. Mr Rose, who left Arcadia at the end of last year, met with members of the Boots board in November but has not heard from the company for almost a month.

Some retail experts suggested Mr Rose might have been put off the job by the prospect of working with Sir Nigel Rudd, who has been nominated as the company's choice as its new chairman. It is thought Mr Rose might have feared that Sir Nigel would be too "hands on".

Another stumbling block might have been Mr Rose's lack of enthusiasm for moving to Nottingham, where Boots has its headquarters.

Separately yesterday, Boots withdrew further from its Wellbeing services offer by axing a trial of "alternative" therapies such as homeopathy, herbalism and reflexology. Physiotherapy and osteopathy will also be withdrawn from the 12 trial stores.

The company said: "There has been reasonable customer interest but not enough to justify a roll-out."

Boots is also changing the employment contracts of the dentists in the 56 practices it operates. They will be moved from full-time salaries to self-employed contracts where they will be paid according to the number of patients they treat.

The company said the overhaul would cost £4m over the next two financial years but would save £4m a year after 2003. Boots has already said it will place less emphasis on Wellbeing services in order to focus more on the core Boots the Chemists business.

Boots Wellbeing services, including Boots Opticians, recorded a loss of £33m last year on sales of £231m. The company said customer response to other services, such as laser eye surgery and chiropody, was encouraging but remained part of the group's deferred review into its services offering.

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