It’s the end of an era. Or at least it soon will be. Mark Price, the MD of Waitrose, will step down in April, after nine years in the role.
So what will he do next? How successful will he be outside the security of the Partnership he’s worked at these past 33 years? How will he be remembered? And what are the challenges facing Rob Collins, the current retail director, who was announced this morning as his successor?
We’ll tackle some of these questions in Saturday’s issue of The Grocer. But let’s clear up here and now what Mark Price is up to.
In the press release announcing his departure, JLP chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield made no mention of a destination. He was off “pursuing new interests”.
Even in a personal note from Price to Fleet Street’s finest, he said only that: “In addition to continuing as deputy chairman of Channel 4, when I leave in April I shall be working with a major global firm to do client consultancy in the area of employee engagement and I have accepted several invitations to give guest lectures at business schools and universities. I am also writing a number of books.”
But Price was being a little bit cute. Or a little bit shy. Or possibly both.
As we wrote last week, in his role as deputy chairman at Channel 4, Price will indeed step in as interim chairman, now that Lord Burns is stepping down as chairman at the end of January.
But Price wants the role full-time – whether that’s the 50-odd days and £100,000 salary that the job currently commands or, if the case demands it, even more.
And with the possibility of privatisation looking very likely, given the government’s determination to cut costs, that would be a huge amount of hours.
It would also, presumably, be pretty darned lucrative, certainly if he were to make a success of it.
Not that money was the motivation for his application to the role.
“There are only five broadcasters you can chair and they don’t come along very often, so I had to make a decision,” he told me in an interview this afternoon.
“First there’s the intellectual challenge that lies ahead in the next few years in terms of what might happen to the channel.
“But it’s also about working with incredibly creative and talented people.”
Price sees “a lot of parallels” between grocery and the media in terms of technological upheaval and the impact of the web. It’s all about channels.
The timing is good too.
“I’m 55 and in Partnership speak that equates to retirement. And I’m approaching another milestone: next year will be my 10th in the role, and I’ve been thinking for a while that I was coming to the end of my time. So at the start of the year I told [Sir] Charlie that I would start to consider my options, and it just so happens that a month ago Terry [Burns] confirmed he was going to stand down and the application window opened last week. So as much as I enjoy what I do I had to take my chance.”
As a government appointment, ministers are surely likely to consider Price favourably, given his experience, and the Partnership’s close links with government.
And who can doubt the value of his transferrable skills, especially given the success of Adam Crozier at ITV, after he moved from the Post Office?
Price clearly fancies his chances. “I’ve been on the board for five years so I have a reasonable chance of being successful. And I have a reasonable skillset.”
But Price is also clear he has other irons in the fire. “I’m not short of offers. I’ve been offered consultancy work on employee engagement. And I would like to pursue my interest in writing.”
Indeed even as an author, Price demonstrates his versatility, with three books currently in the works on three different topics: the first, on the power of employee engagement, will publish early next year (and he’s already secured serialisation rights with a national newspaper); he’s also writing a food book to be published by Ebury in the summer; and next autumn, he will publish The Foolish King, the first of several children’s books he’s been commissioned to write.
He’s not ruling out another role in the food industry though. “Who knows? I may come back as chairman of an fmcg business. I don’t think I would want to return to retail. I’ve done my time. But I’ve always enjoyed the manufacturing side. I can imagine doing something on that side in the future.”