You Live and You Learn: Sir Stuart Rose

The former CEO of Marks & Spencer started out selling men's pyjamas and ended up grappling with Philip Green.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Growing up, I was desperate to earn money and get a job. That was my only driving ambition when I was young. I decided against pursuing a career in medicine and going to university.

I joined M&S when I was 22 because it was the first company to offer me a proper job. I started out selling men's pyjamas. Retail is an energetic activity. You spend a lot of time on your feet, it's fast-moving and you need good social skills. I look for those same qualities today.

My mother committed suicide when I was in my mid-20s. Does it make you think about life? Yes. It makes you slightly thicker skinned. But any assumption that my career success is related to my mother's demise is far-fetched. I always had drive.

Anyone who thinks retail is dead is exaggerating. It's in constant flux. The internet has created the biggest challenge, but intense competition is good. It's Darwinian. Tesco is struggling because it's been on top of the game for 25 years. But all empires have highs and lows.

M&S has one of the highest percentages of women on its board, about 40%. But it's never had a woman CEO. Just because women buy from M&S isn't a reason to put a woman in charge. The top job is open to everyone. Whether women get it depends on whether they're good enough and whether they want it.

It's not fair to say that all bosses are paid too much. People recognise if you want a business leader, you need to pay them correctly.

I have a good relationship with Philip Green now. It's no secret that Phillip and I had a bing bang bosh through most of 2004. He grabbed me by the suit lapels once. He is quite well built.

God laughs when man makes plans. Half of what happens in your life is not what you do, it's what some other bugger does. Have a sense of humour and take the rough with the smooth. If your life continually goes upwards with no knock-backs, you're a freak.

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