Former M&S Boss Sir Stuart Rose Takes Chairmanship At Ocado

Online retailer Ocado has secured Sir Stuart Rose as its new chairman in a move the company hopes will steer it into calmer waters.

Ocado has been struggling since it went public in July 2010 - its initial public offering was met with derision after the share price, set at 180p, was deemed to be over priced.

More recently, Ocado has seen some benefits from being an online retailer over the Christmas period, with sales up by 14% in the six weeks to 6 January.

Online shopping across the retail sector rose by 18% in December compared with same period a year earlier, according to figures from the British Retail Consortium. Ocado's chief executive, Tim Steiner, said at the time: "People are recognising online is going to be a major channel in food. We would like to see the entire market move online."

Ocado is due to open a new distribution centre shortly which will near double its capacity and should finally push the company to a full-year annual profit.

However, city analysts have by and large remained sceptical about Ocado's long term future, given the hugely fierce competition from the major supermarkets.

Sir Stuart, who joins in March and will take over the chairman's role from Lord Michael Grade in May, said in a statement on Tuesday: "I have been very impressed at the impact and progress Ocado has made to date. As retail goes through a fundamental shift into the digital world, I believe Ocado's model... will see it emerge as a powerful online player."

Sir Stuart will be seen by some as a coup for Ocado due to his long history in retail markets. Prior to the announcement, he spent six years at Marks and Spencer, starting in 2004. He immediately faced a torrid period trying to fend off a takeover bid from Top Shop impresario Sir Philip Green.

While he was widely credited with helping M&S get back on track in terms of attracting female shoppers in the mid 2000s, he caused controversy in 2008 by assuming both the chairman and chief executive roles at the company.

Since leaving M&S, Sir Stuart has taken on a number of part-time roles, including acting as an adviser to Bridgepoint, the private equity firm, and as a non-executive director of Woolworths Holdings, the South African retailer.

And in a further twist, many media outlets are reporting on the rumours that Sir Stuart's former employer M&S may be considering a takeover bid for Ocado, causing shares to rise by 10% on Tuesday morning.

Company Watch's business analyst Nick Hood told the Huffington Post UK securing such a high profile chairman underlined the determination of Ocado to "address the persistent doubts among industry commentators about the long term viability of their business model".

"There has been gossip about bid rumours and alliances ever since its interim management statement last September, and again after its Christmas trading update earlier this month. Sir Stuart Rose's arrival should help to re-focus attention on underlying trading performance and the key strategic issues facing Ocado, once the initial excitement at this very significant hire has died down," he predicted.

"He joins a company with an acceptable but slightly below par financial profile. Our rating is 46 out of a possible 100, reflecting the tight working capital position and marginal profitability."

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