Marks & Spencer broadened the role of finance director Ian Dyson to include the company's international expansion, fuelling speculation that he may succeed Stuart Rose as the retailer's next chief.
Mr Dyson (47) will take on the additional responsibilities from Carl Leaver, who will leave in the next two to three months as the role "does not fit with his career aspirations", the UK's biggest clothing retailer said yesterday.
M&S, which announced a 38pc slump in annual profit yesterday, said Mr Dyson will head a team that will plan stores outside Britain, improve service and develop branding over the next decade. Mr Rose, Marks & Spencer's 60-year-old executive chairman, said yesterday it was "too early" to anoint a successor.
"This places Dyson as the front-runner to succeed Rose" if his '2020 Doing the Right Thing' programme succeeds in reviving growth, Caroline Gulliver, an analyst at Execution in London, said. Mr Rose has led M&S since 2004 and says he plans to step down in 2011.
The retailer cut its dividend for the first time in nine years yesterday, and its shares tumbled the most since August after Mr Rose said he isn't seeing any 'green shoots' of recovery.
Marks & Spencer shares fell 27.5p, or 8.1pc, to 311.75p in London trading yesterday.