M&S poaches Tesco's 'sturdily handsome' Wade-Gery in online revamp

Marks & Spencer has snatched Tesco's e-commerce director Laura Wade-Gery to lead its £1bn web expansion.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Laura Wade-Gery, Tesco’s e-commerce boss, is to take up the mantle of executive director of multi-channel ecommerce at M&S – a role created since the supermarket decided to split its online operation from the offline retail business. She’s clearly impressed with just how seriously new CEO Marc Bolland is taking his online drive: in November he said he wanted to catapult web sales from £400m to £1bn by 2014. That has to be a tasty challenge in anyone’s book.

M&S’ multi-channel offering used to come under the remit of the retail director. But with the success of Tesco Direct, and outfits like Ocado even finally making a decent stab of it, M&S has cottoned onto the potential gains of giving online the muscle it needs to be a money-spinner in its own right.

And in landing Wade-Gery, M&S seems to have pulled off a real coup. She was about to become the commercial director of Tesco's non-food operation. Instead she’ll become a figurehead at one of its main rivals. And she brings an impressive track record: in her Tesco days, she presided over a 16% increase in online sales, taking totals to £1.2bn. Tesco was also the first supermarket to actually make a profit from online grocery sales - which actually rose 9.1% last year, thanks to a 10% uplift in customer numbers and nifty innovations like the Tesco iPhone app.

Tesco won’t need reminding of the kind of character they’re losing. A younger Wade-Gery was a travel companion of travel writer William Dalrymple, who immortalised her in his first book, In Xanadu: ‘Her reputation had gone before her. She was renowned as a formidable lady, frighteningly intelligent, physically tough, and if not conventionally beautiful, then at least sturdily handsome.’ Wade-Gery apparently saw off an entire Delhi street gang intent on causing a ruck following Indira Gandhi's 1984 assassination, leaving one member ‘permanently incapacitated’. It’s not every day we get a description like that into our recruitment news.

Tesco’s loss is a real gain for Bolland, who joined M&S in late 2009 and seems to be assembling his dream-team, having already welcomed Alan Stewart (a former WH Smith man known as a cost-cutter) as finance director (with a little help from a £300k golden hello). Over at Tesco, it’s all change too: in just a few weeks, the Godfather himself, Sir Terry Leahy, will be stepping down. The departure of Wade-Gery will undoubtedly be a blow – but it serves as a reminder of how highly the industry rates the team of top execs he’s managed to put together during his time at the top...

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