Overview: Sparks at Marks

They may say it’s “your M&S”, but the big question is whether it is Ian
Dyson’s. The current finance and operations director of the High Street giant is
said to be in the frame for the chief executive’s position. But with news that
the company has retained headhunters to start the search, will it happen for

What’s happened?
Ian Dyson joined the business in 2005 and since then his seat at the boardroom
table appears to have been as comfy as a pair of Marks & Sparks briefs.

His pedigree indicated that he was well-tailored for the job. Spells as FD at
the Rank Group and Le Meridien Hotels, as well as being group financial
controller at Hilton Group, put him in a good position.

And there was every sign that he was succeeding. Plan A, to make M&S
green had been headed by Dyson and has been a success. So impressive was Dyson
that he even won the Blue Chip FD prize at the Accountancy Age Awards.

Of course, M&S has not been without controversy. Financial performance
over the year has been as lacklustre as an undercooked Victoria sponge and the
current CEO, Sir Stuart Rose, courted controversy by becoming chairman and
raising concerns over corporate governance.

Dyson, however, seems to have kept trouble at a distance, even earning a
promotion of sorts to take on the operations role.

What happens next?
The word coming back from M&S’ Waterside House HQ is that Dyson really wants
the CEO’s job. He has the financial background and he looks like a good bet. But
if respected headhunter Jan Hall can tap some big retail names, Dyson begins to
look like a bit of an outside chance despite the past four years being mentored
by Sir Stuart.

Expert observers believe Dyson’s CV may not be quite right. Running a big
retailer is all about understanding the products, branding, the fickle nature of
consumers, and having that “gut feel” about what you put in the shop window and
what you drape on Mylene Klass in the TV ads. It’s almost akin to practicing
alchemy. One executive expert told Accountancy Age that given the
almost “mystical” skills of the great retailers, taking on Dyson looked like a
big risk.

If Dyson were to find himself up against heavyweight candidates such as
Justin King from Sainsbury, Andy Bond of Asda, or even Simon Wolfson of Next,
they would certainly give him a run for his money.

But, that said, he is the man on the inside and he has had the benefit of
watching one of the masters of retail from very close quarters. Has enough
knowledge, or sheer retailing instinct, rubbed off to convince the M&S board
and share holders that he is the man for the job? We’ll see. For now it’s a
little early to say: Ian Dyson, it’s your M&S.

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