Ailing UK Retailer Trades-In the Chair

19 May 2005

In a land where tradition and social rank still command greater respect than efficiency, Great Britain has an unsated penchant for appointing nobles to the boards of its listed companies

The syndrome is at its most obvious when profits are sagging and senior management is under attack from disgruntled shareholders. As, for example, with high Street retail giant Marks & Spencer.

Having languished in the financial doldrums for several years and sacked its familial ruling junta, the reeling retailer then survived two takeover attempts by piratical entrepreneur Philip Green.

In the course of which it appointed a new chief executive, Stuart Rose, and an interim chairman Paul Myners - the latter, a safe City of London figure, to appease investors. But although appointed as a caretaker, Myners has grown rather fond of his sinecure and is keen to make it permanent.

But a boardroom putsch has put paid to Myners' ambition and he is to be replaced by Lord Terry Burns, a former senior civil servant and confidante of prime minister Blair, who on his retirement ambled into a comfortable berth as chairman of Abbey National Bank.

After the bank's takeover by Banco Santander of Spain in 2004, His Lordship found himself without gainful employment - until now. His appointment as M&S chairman brings to mind a recently disinterred piece of doggerel ...

When your profits fail to flare
Instruct the board to sack its chair.
Best of all, if funds afford,
Fill it with a real live Lord.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff