With 46 years in retail under his belt, Stuart Rose, or Baron Rose of Monewden, is undoubtedly a worthy winner of the Drapers Lifetime Achievement Award 2018.
Known for his dogged focus on the customer – he describes them as “master of the universe” – Rose has led some of the UK’s biggest retailers and executed some famous turnarounds.
Now synonymous with Marks & Spencer, Rose joined the retailer in 1971 as a management trainee, and remained there until 1989, when he joined Burton Group, which comprised Arcadia Group and Debenhams. He became CEO in 1994.
In 1997, Rose was appointed chief executive of Argos. He then took on the same role at cash and carry business Booker and oversaw its merger with Iceland. In 2000, he joined Arcadia Group as chief executive. During his tenure, Rose was credited with turning around the loss-making business and sold it to Sir Philip Green for £855m just two years later.
Following his success at Arcadia, Rose was parachuted into a struggling M&S as CEO in 2004. He embarked on a turnaround strategy that focused on the retailer’s womenswear business. In 2008, Rose was appointed executive chairman – combining CEO and chairman roles. In January 2011, Robert Swannell took over the position of chairman as Rose left the business.
Showing no signs of slowing down, Rose took up his first non-executive directorship in 2011 at South African retail group Woolworths Holdings – a position he still holds. He continues to impart his knowledge and expertise to the industry as chairman of several retail business, including online personal styling retailer Dressipi.com since 2012; online grocer Ocado, which he joined in 2013; lifestyle retailer Fat Face, which he joined the same year; and Middle East, Africa and Asia shopping centre owner Majid Al Futtaim Retail.
Rose was chairman of the British Fashion Council from 2004 until 2008. In 2008 he was knighted for services to the retail industry and corporate social responsibility, and in 2014 was elevated to the House of Lords. In an interview for Drapers’ 130th anniversary book last year, the retail veteran was characteristically modest about his achievements: “I was lucky. Opportunities came my way. I wasn’t stupid and I took those opportunities. I worked hard, blagged my way through and it’s all worked out.”
Industry views on Rose
Steve Rowe CEO, Marks & Spencer
Stuart has shop-keeping in his bones. He’s an old-school, no-nonsense retailer who just loves the art of buying and selling. His product intuition is second to none: he knows exactly which products will sell – and which won’t. This instilled a confidence inside M&S at time when it was much needed, and he is very highly thought of here. Of course, he also cares passionately about the people and brands that he works with, so everyone wanted to be on his team, including me. I hugely enjoyed my time working alongside him and learnt loads from one of the masters.
Peter Ruis Managing director, Anthropologie
Stuart is one of those retail luminaries we will possibly never see the like of again. Whenever he speaks, he does so with the enthusiasm of someone who has just started out in the industry, and whether talking about physical retail from the 1980s or omnichannel in 2018, he is eternally relevant and forward thinking.
Kate Bostock Owner of kidswear brand Angel & Rocket and KB Fashion Consultancy
I joined M&S soon after Stuart took over. They were the best years of my career, partly because of Stuart and where he wanted to take M&S. He created lots of opportunities to drive the brand forward.
We became a faster, more reactive business under his leadership. He had a vision that M&S had to change. His priority was always the customer, who was always at the forefront of his mind and vision. He made quick decisions and didn’t labour meetings and processes.
He was an astute leader, very aware of the business and what needed to be done, and he empowered his staff to do it. He raised the bar.
Anthony Thompson CEO, Fat Face
I have learnt a lot from Stuart over the years. He is one of the most intuitive, savvy, pragmatic and brave retailers in a generation. Whichever way you look at it, his CV is impressive, and his reputation well deserved.
Sacha Berendji Retail director at M&S and former executive assistant for Rose at M&S
Stuart just gets retail – customers, products and marketing are all second nature to him. He’s a retail whirlwind – there is never a dull moment with Stuart – but he makes every decision count. Working closely with him was a privilege.
Andrew Jennings Retail veteran
Stuart is a no-nonsense and highly focused retail leader. There are not too many around who understand the essential principles of our fast-changing business. He is always willing to share thoughts and ideas that would benefit colleagues. This was especially helpful to me when I was group managing director of Woolworths South Africa. Stuart did a brilliant job of repositioning M&S, as well as launching its pioneering and effective Plan A Sustainability programme.
Barbara Horspool Clothing director, The White Company
I was introduced to Stuart in the 1980s in Paris, when he was running M&S’s European operations. What struck me most (apart from the twinkle in his eyes) was just how “un-M&S” he was: brave, opinionated, irreverent and hilarious. He was passionate about retailing and about his ability to drive success for the brand he loved.
Nigel Oddy CEO, The Range, and former CEO, House of Fraser
I first met Stuart in the early 1980s, when I was the new young department manager for food in M&S Marble Arch and he was an executive in the food group. He was clearly a connoisseur of fine wine. Every Friday evening, he would walk down from head office in Baker Street and quiz me on the sales of almost every wine we sold.
The retail life of Lord Rose