MAY BANK holiday weekend could not have been more dramatic for Paul Myners, the chairman of the Guardian Media Group who was installed on Monday as the new interim chairman of Marks & Spencer.
It started early last Friday morning with breakfast with Stella Rimington, the former chief of MI5, at Mr Myners' home in Chelsea, and ended with a tumultuous 5pm board meeting on Monday afternoon.
"Not a lot of food was eaten," Mr Myners say about the tense coffee- and-croissants meeting with his fellow M&S non-executive directors that also included Brain Baldock, another M&S director, and Stuart Rose.
Around this Chelsea breakfast club then unfolded a remarkable series of events, including the ousting of Luc Vandevelde and Roger Holmes, as chairman and chief executive of M&S respectively, and the appointment of Mr Rose as the new head of Britain's most famous retail chain. For the past week M&S has been besieged by Philip Green, the Bhs billionaire with a pounds 9bn shopping list and only one item on it, but yesterday the Green threat seemed to be receding.
"We've got to avoid complacency," a chirpy Mr Myners says. "We're not declaring victory but the feedback from shareholders suggests this [Green's fairly sketchy proposal] is not enough to excite their interest."
So what does Mr Myners himself think of Mr Green's cash and shares offer? "I was at the Edward Hopper exhibition at Tate Modern this morning. That's a sure sign of how underwhelmed at Philip Green's offer I was."
Mr Myners, chairman of the Tate trustees, is in an upbeat mood after Mr Green's opening gambit in the battle for M&S was met with general derision.
"Philip Green is a determined individual and I wouldn't say we have seen him off yet but the choice [of whether to proceed] is now his and his backers'," he says.
Certainly Mr Myners, 56, is in a much better mood than he was last Thursday afternoon after he was first told of Mr Green's approach. "There has been a dramatic change in people's attitudes here. It's visible. Thursday, things weren't looking too bright when I came straight here from a meeting at the TUC."
M&S, TUC, Guardian Media Group, the Tate. After 28 years of City service, with NM Rothschild and Gartmore, the fund management group, Mr Myners seems to have escaped into unfettered non-executiveship. To add polish to his CV he is also a trustee of Glyndebourne and is on the board of mmO2, the mobile phone group.
All this means that Mr Myners is well cut out for defending M&S against low-ball bids. As a fund manager his natural instinct was to preserve the value of people's pension funds. As the author of various Government- backed studies into the City's murkier side, such as soft commissions, he has become the scourge of many powerful investment banks.
"They call me a City Grandee. If there is one person who isn't a City Grandee it's me. A City Grandee doesn't talk about weaknesses in the way the City works; he doesn't produce reports that are seriously disruptive to City culture and Spanish practice."
But surely he must admit to having the trappings of grandee- ship, even down to some political influence? "I'm not a member of any political party. I've only met Tony Blair once and he was the most outstanding Prime Minister I have ever met." Needless to say Mr Blair is the only Prime Minister that this jocular non-grandee has ever met.
Perhaps he's angling for another gong. He is already a CBE. "Hereditary peerage," Mr Myners jests.
Anyway, back to M&S. How did a business that seemed to have got back on track fall off the rails again so quickly? "There were clearly performance issues. The key issues were around focus. There were too many initiatives being run and the pace of delivery too slow. Over the first quarter of the calendar year it became obvious these issues were not going to go away," Mr Myners says. …