Market forces

Judith McKenna has emerged as one of the front runners for the recently
vacated post of chief executive at supermarket giant Asda. Will she make a dash
for the post?

What’s happened?

Retailers, and especially supermarkets, have recently seen more CEO positions
change hands than you could comfortably fit in a shopping basket.
Both Morrisons and Marks & Spencer have made new appointments and the latest
to join the list of grocers looking to rotate the stock in the leader’s chair is
Asda, after the surprise resignation of Andy Bond.

Immediately there was talk of who would replace him and among the hopefuls
rushing to the checkout first is Judith McKenna, the finance director from
Middlesbrough whose warm and down-to-earth manner charms all who meet her.

One consultant quoted in the grocers’ bible Retail Week called her
“incredibly charming” while tipping her as “definitely” having the potential to
move on to the top job.

McKenna has impressed businessmen, journalists and analysts alike. Former
colleagues have also tipped her for big things and noted that she is not only
well liked here in the UK, but also by her US paymasters – owners Walmart.

All this talk of McKenna being the best thing since sliced bread goes back at
least a couple of years. She has had time to set out her stall.

What happens next?

Asda and Walmart will need to put their heads together and decide whether
McKenna wins the bonus points on her club card. She is not without competition,
even within Walmart and Asda itself.

She has plenty on her CV to commend her candidacy. She not only runs finance,
where she managed to drive a successful £200m cost saving programme, she’s also
been in charge of property construction and store design.

And those things require a deeper understanding of the business and customers
than simply totting up the figures. Read the cuttings and you find a woman fully
behind the company (she’s been there since 1996 and CFO since 2005) and its
products. Above all else that’s what those in charge will be looking for – an
instinct and passion for selling their products.

Retail FDs are often spoken of as being in the running for the CEO’s job, but
they don’t always prove successful. Ian Dyson at M&S remains FD despite
being hotly tipped to replace Sir Stuart Rose. The fear is that FDs are too
reserved and far from entrepreneurial, or strategic in their thinking.

McKenna herself is on record describing her approach as “practical and
risk-averse”, but some say she might be hiding her real sharp and savvy

Whatever happens, she will no doubt seek advice at home. Her husband Phil
Dutton is FD at Punch Taverns – a family of financial expertise.

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