Boots shops at Asda for new chief executive

By Nigel Cope
Wednesday 22 January 2014 04:01
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Boots, the struggling retailer, will today unveil Richard Baker, a director at Asda, as its new chief executive in a move that will make the 40-year-old businessman one of the youngest heads of a FTSE 100 company.

Boots will also confirm that Sir Nigel Rudd will succeed Sir John McGrath as the chairman in the summer.

The choice of Mr Baker as chief executive ends a five-month search to replace Steve Russell, whose strategy of taking Boots into Wellbeing services such as Botox injections and massages has since been abandoned.

It is thought Mr Baker will not be able to join Boots until September as Asda is unwilling to release him from his contract sooner. His remuneration has not yet been revealed though it is likely to be a significant package.

Mr Baker is currently chief operating officer at Asda where he is, in effect, number two to the group's chief executive Tony DeNunzio. It is understood that his responsibilities include marketing and trading, while he also has experience of own-brand products and customer service.

Married with two children, Mr Baker joined Asda in 1995 from the privately owned Mars Group. He therefore followed the same career path as Allan Leighton, the former chief executive of Asda who is now chairman of the Royal Mail.

Mr Leighton, who worked with Mr Baker at Mars and Asda said: "He is a great talent and I think it's a masterstroke by Boots. They've got a young guy on the way up with it all to prove. He's come from the Mars school so he knows all about keeping it simple and being focused.

He added: "He's ex-Cambridge so he's bright. But he got a 2:2 which means he majored in drinking and leisure. That shows he's got the people touch."

Analysts were divided on their views of Mr Baker's merits. One said: "He's done retailing and brands and is well regarded. It also marks a generational shift."

But another retail expert said: "Asda is a great business but take some of the managers out of there and they don't necessarily do that well. It's part of the Wal-Mart machine now."

Mr Leighton said Mr Baker would take Boots back to its roots. "Everyone thinks it's a mature business but I don't think it is. It's one of the big growth markets," he said.

Since announcing in December that Mr Russell was being replaced Boots has abandoned the move into Wellbeing services, pulled the plug on its Pure Beauty chain of upmarket cosmetics stores and announced the closure of a manufacturing plant in Airdrie with the loss of 1,000 jobs.

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