Britain's Most Admired: Marks sparkles

With the highest score ever, M&S is a worthy winner of our Most Admired. Behind every successful company, there’s an inspired leader: Rose at M&S, Leahy at Tesco and Murdoch Jnr at BSkyB. Meanwhile, retailing’s on a roll, but telecoms and banking are glum – Northern Rock was shrewdly assessed by its peers. And it’s a poignant farewell to Hanson and ICI…

So, Marks & Spencer has finally done it and knocked Tesco off its Most Admired perch. In time, the tale of M&S’s recovery over the past three years will go down as a textbook tale of how to breathe new life into an ailing company. It has been a process by which the old-stager regained its place in the affections of the British public with a clever ‘Your M&S’ marketing campaign. It’s an attempt to create a warm intimacy that, while slightly old-fashioned, is also somehow very 21st century – as is its famous Plan A, which has captured the sustainability zeitgeist perfectly.

One vital weapon in the M&S armoury has been the character of its CEO Stuart Rose, who at 58 is now working harder than he has ever done during his 35-year career as a retailer. He is quite at ease with his high profile – unlike his predecessors – and has managed to charm even the most grizzled and cynical of City analysts with his quips and aperçus, whether it’s ‘weather is for wimps’ or displaying his intimate knowledge of the fabrication of his firm’s men’s boxer shorts.

This is not to say that he comes across as arrogant – quite the reverse: he has displayed great caution in his summaries of how he thinks the organisation for which he first worked as a youth is faring. He is no less popular with his staff. It’s even said that when he visits stores, females from the tills queue up to get his autograph.

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