“A huge result for finance”, was the reaction of top executive recruiter Mark
Freebairn, on Marks & Spencer’s group FD Ian Dyson landing the chief
executive role at Punch Taverns.
FDs have long been recognised as top prospects for the leading role within
their own business. They understand the finances and are involved in strategy or
operational aspects of the business. Throw in an ability to converse with
investors and analysts, and the FD is a good bet for CEO.
But making that leap into another company is highly unusual and Freebairn
believes such a move among the top PLCs is unprecedented.
“The first one is always the hardest,” said Freebairn. “We haven’t seen this
happen before, but this move says a huge amount about the role of finance. The
role of the FD has risen above and beyond, with markets so financially
oriented,” he added.
Dyson had been a front-runner to replace Sir Stuart Rose as chief executive
at M&S. Beyond his finance responsibilities, he took charge of 20/20, the
retailer’s expansion drive, and was effectively managing the business on a
day-to-day business when Rose stepped up to executive chairman.
But some observers suggested the appointment of Marc Bolland at M&S
meant it was inevitable Dyson would look for another senior role.
Dyson’s operational experience, background in the leisure sector with Rank
and a head for numbers has secured him the chief’s job at Punch. His skillset
will be pushed to the limit, with the pub business £3bn in debt. Dyson will also
have to work with other directors who were flagged up for the job he has won.
Dyson said that, while the timing of such announcements was “never perfect”,
particularly as Bolland had joined just two days earlier, he was unable to turn
down an offer to head up a public company. “My background in leisure makes Punch
a very exciting opportunity and one I couldn’t ignore. It also makes great use
of all my leisure and retail experience,” said Dyson.
Speculation has arisen that Richard Pennycook, who worked with Bolland at
Morrisons as FD, could join his former boss at M&S in place of Dyson.
However, Freebairn believes Pennycook is another top FD who could make the
switch to chief executive in another business, à la Dyson.
“There’s Pennycook and Brian Wallace at Ladbrokes [who could step up]. Any
good commercial FD becomes a credible candidate for an external chief role,”
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