Sir Stuart Rose takes the hot seat at Ocado

 
Kasmira Jefford
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SIR STUART Rose, the former boss of Marks & Spencer, is to become chairman of Ocado, in a major coup for the online retailer.

The company said Sir Stuart is to replace Sir Michael Grade after its annual general meeting in May. Grade, best known for his roles at ITV and Channel Four, will be stepping down after seven years at the helm of Ocado.

The change of guard comes at a crucial time for the troubled firm, which has failed to make a profit since it was first founded 2001. The firm is pinning its hopes on the opening of a distribution centre in Warwickshire this year to help it compete against fast-growing rivals.

Panmure Gordon analyst Philip Dorgan hailed Sir Stuart’s appointment as a “good move” and one that is likely to reignite “bid chatter”, though a bid for the firm was unlikely. M&S was reported to have eyed an acquisition before it floated in 2010.

But Shore Capital analysts were sceptical that Sir Stuart will turn around a struggling Ocado and said: “Bad companies will always beat good management.”

PROFILE: SIR STUART ROSE

Sir Stuart Rose may have questioned the profitability of Ocado’s business model in 2009, but yesterday the former M&S boss put his weight behind the online grocer by becoming its next chairman, saying Ocado’s model “will see it emerge as a powerful online player”. While analysts remain sceptical of such a future for the loss-making firm, most agree that Sir Stuart’s long record at the heart of UK retail makes him the right man to try to reverse its fortunes. The 63-year old, described by one analyst as “a retail Boris Johnson” for his charismatic manner, has worked in the retail sector for 41 years. He first joined Marks & Spencer in 1972 as a management trainee, where he rose through the ranks before leaving to become chief executive of the Burton Group in 1989. Sir Stuart left in late 1997 before Burton Group split into Arcadia and department store group Debenhams. After stints as chief executive of Argos and cash-and-carry business Booker, he joined the Arcadia Group in 2000 as chief executive, where he sealed his reputation for success by turning around the debt-laden group and overseeing its sale in 2002 to Sir Philip Green for £885m. Sir Stuart returned to M&S in 2008 as executive chairman, where he was credited with defending that group from a takeover bid in 2004 by Sir Philip Green, but also courted controversy by becoming both chairman and chief executive – challenging corporate best practice rules. Since leaving in 2012 the retail veteran has built up a cache of non-executive roles at companies including fashion retailer Blue Inc, online retailer Hut Group and travel insurer No Exclusions. He is also on the board of private equity firm Bridgepoint and property developer Land Securities, mobile e-commerce service Mobile Money Network and South African retailer Woolworths Holdings.