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...