Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

An outside Chance for Boots; City Comment

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

An outside Chance for Boots; City Comment

Article excerpt


IT is interesting to see the name of Peter Williams, the former chief executive of Selfridges, among the runners and riders tipped to be the next finance director of High Street chemists chain Boots.

My understanding was that he was looking for another chief executive job rather than a return to his finance director roots, but obviously not. That said, Williams is not past the post yet but faces stiff homegrown opposition from Ian Smart, Boots' financial controller.

The intriguing question is which of the pair would most find favour with chief executive Richard Baker and which would do most to shore up the latter's position.

This is becoming necessary because though Baker is a highly talented executive - better than the much-praised Justin King at Sainsbury's, according to some who know them both - he does seem recently to have been a bit depressed.

One can see why. Trading on the High Street is tough for almost everybody as consumers rein in their spending, but such a climate is doubly hard for those already under pressure and looking for recovery.

In Baker's case, however, it threatens to be even tougher because he seems to have made very few inroads into the deeply ingrained Boots culture and its climate of inertia. As a result his energy and drive - to say nothing of his confidence - get dissipated among colleagues who say yes but mean no.

While his chairman, Sir Nigel Rudd, may sympathise, he is not one to hang around waiting for things to get better. He might even judge that Baker has brought some of this problem on himself because of his failure properly to purge and shake up the top managementat Boots in the honeymoon-period shortly after he arrived. Contrast this with Stuart Rose at Marks & Spencer and Justin King at Sainsbury's, both of whom announced their arrival with a ruthless purge of the existing order. Change is much easier to achieve with a new team.

A finance director from outside is not going to solve Baker's problems, but it would at least reinforce that message.

Centrica caution IT has been divulged under the Freedom of Information Act that Citigroup's investment banking division Rail irony CENTRICA, lest we forget, was created by the break-up of British Gas - a demerger of the former nationalised industry's retail arm from the culturally separate businesses of has earned [pounds sterling]6. …

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