MARKS & SPENCER’S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose has said publicly for the first time he hopes to stand down before July 2011, his previously announced departure date.<br /><br />Rose, who has faced months of speculation about his future, said: “It’s quite clear. I said I would extend my tenure at the least until 2011. What we said, effectively, was that was to allow us to work out the succession.”<br /><br />Rose tried to calm the storm by saying that there would be no change at the helm of the bellwether chain for at least a year, but cited again a preference for an internal candidate for the position.<br /><br />M&S yesterday emphasised it has not appointed external head-hunters to look for a successor.<br /><br />However the surprise exit of Carl Leaver, head of international operations, stunned many observers who tipped Leaver as heir to the top job. Leaver’s exit is the second executive loss for the company, following Steven Esom, head of food, stepping down from the board. The recent exodus of executive departures from the former high street favourite has left just finance director Ian Dyson in the runnings as a suitable inside candidate for Rose’s position.<br /><br />Sir David Michels, the former chief executive of Hilton Group and deputy chairman of M&S, is running the search for Rose’s replacement.<br /><br />Andy Bond, chief executive of Asda is considered by City analysts to be a likely external candidate for the role. Bond said at the weekend that to be included on the shortlist was “a real ego trip.”<br /><br />BCG Partners analyst David Buik yesterday said that as well as Bond, John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield was considered to be a top external candidate. <br /><br />Rose last week unveiled a controversial dividend cut, the first for nine years, slashing theshareholder pay-out by a third to 15p a share.<br /><br />The group also announced pre-tax profits fell 37 per cent to £706.2m in the year to the end of March on sales up just 0.4 per cent to £9.1bn as M&S ploughed money into price cuts.