M&S suits Rose nicely

The retailer chain's boss contrasts strikingly with the maverick outsider Philip Green.

by Patience Wheatcroft, business and City editor of The Times
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Entrepreneurs do not fit easily into the corporate mould. They take quick decisions and risks that would be judged unacceptable in the conventional boardroom. Philip Green is the epitome of the entrepreneur, always the owner-manager, never the employee. When he heard that Stuart Rose had become chief executive of Marks & Spencer rather than joining the Green team, he sneered that he had thought that Rose 'was interested in being an owner rather than an employee'. But the implications of his remark were not entirely fair. True, Rose has opted for employment at M&S, but whatever the stake he would have had in a Green-led takeover of the company, he would never have been cast as owner.

No matter how big Green's empire grows, it will always have only one owner, and the rest, although they may become extremely wealthy, will never be more than employees. Rose recognised this when Green tried to recruit him as a potential head of the M&S food business, with an equity share in the company. He must have concluded that he'd have far more autonomy as CEO of M&S, even with a board of directors and a slate of shareholders to answer to, than he'd ever have with Green as his boss.

This is not a criticism of Green, just a reflection of his character. He has been pretty much self-employed since leaving school, and when his succession of retail deals left him at the helm of a publicly quoted company, he carried on doing business his way. The profits warning that eventually prompted his departure from Amber Day in September 1992 was not uniquely awful - other bosses have told the City worse and survived - but it came after mounting disquiet over Green's approach to business, and ructions in the boardroom had left shareholders wanting a boss with whom they felt more comfortable.

Both Green and Rose are devotees of the retail business, but Rose is the suave corporate operator, whereas Green will always be the entrepreneur. Rose had run divisions, including all the multiples businesses in the Burton Group, later repackaged as Arcadia, but never an entire quoted company when Argos recruited him as chief executive. Having persuaded GUS to pay an increased price for that, he moved on to Booker and merged that with Iceland, but Booker was never anything but an interim posting for a man who loves the clothing business.

Rose always looks as if his suit has just arrived from Savile Row, and he has been in his element as president of the British Fashion Council. Green does not do councils and committees. He runs BHS and Arcadia the way he ran his earlier businesses, including Mark One and Lewis's, with a conviction that he knows how things should be done. He gets involved in detail, but insists it doesn't need to be time-consuming. He will see a Dorothy Perkins planned range, decide what is right and move on within an hour.

His knowledge of distribution and suppliers is imparted to staff, who have to make use of it while he gets on his mobile to discuss the next deal. He just loves deals, which is one reason why, having already secured the family's fortunes, he could not resist looking at Sainsbury and Safeway before the opportunity came along to take another crack at M&S.

Although Rose became involved with a private equity bid for Debenhams, he is not driven in the same way as Green. He has pocketed enough money to ensure that he can live comfortably without working again, but he is not ready to retire: he wants to reach the top of the retail establishment.

Chairman of Debenhams would have been well on the way, but being the boss of M&S is better. Rose had made no secret of his wish to go back to the company where his career began, but once Luc Vandevelde was belatedly told that he could not persist in being an absentee chairman, Rose began campaigning actively for his job. Only after Green's interest in buying the company became known did the board concede that it had better talk to such a willing volunteer. By then, it had been decided that Roger Holmes would have to be sacrificed in the effort to keep Green at bay. So Paul Myners, a former fund manager who now chairs the Guardian newspaper group, was made chairman and Rose entered Baker Street as chief executive.

He'll be much more effective at talking to and motivating executives than his predecessor, and he'll undoubtedly do some of the things needed to improve the merchandise on offer. He will have to find time to talk to the City, press and his board, and he will do so, politely and with style.

Green has talked about issuing a stub equity element were he to take over M&S, but he would resent every moment in which he had to answer to the owners of that equity or other outsiders. He wants to own businesses and run them his way. No matter how illustrious the band of directors he might assemble around him, that will not change.

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