Plenty of City watchers were calling Charles Wilson a madman two years ago. Stuart Rose's trusted lieutenant had been widely credited with delivering £250m of cost savings in less than two years at M&S and had been tipped as a successor to Rose.

But he had left M&S - just as the retailer was on the verge of a full recovery - to accept the far less glamorous role of chief executive at struggling cash & carry operator Booker.

Superficially at least. Now, having delivered a second year of solid growth at Booker, Wilson has gone a long way to vindicating his decision, earning him the illustrious title of our man of the year.

What really stood out for us this year was his masterminding of Booker's return to the market via a 'reverse takeover' of AIM-listed online wholesaler Blueheath in May. This canny deal forced City naysayers to eat their words.

At Booker, Wilson had outlined a strategy for recovery by improving price, choice and service for customers and the consensus was that he had enough on his plate without worrying about acquisitions.

The deal surprised wholesale experts and the City, as Blueheath had yet to make a profit. But perhaps the reason no one saw the deal coming was that few besides Wilson could have dreamt it up.

While traditionally strong within the cash & carry sector, Booker's main weakness had been its lack of a meaningful delivery operation. The Blueheath deal gave it a ready-made delivered division, which is now being integrated with Booker's national coverage.

As Wilson said at the time, the deal also gave Booker "the ability to become the biggest supplier to independent retailers in the UK".

The move certainly paid off. When the company floated in June it was valued at more than £350m and with a personal stake of 8.13% Wilson was a rich man - on paper at least.

Booker, too, enjoyed a strong year as pre-tax profit climbed to £29.7m from a loss the previous year of £7.6m, and it managed to slash its debt from £125m to £77m. The company also introduced several new ranges and strategies to help independent retailers take on the multiples and hard discounters.

In November Booker launched its first-ever pre-packed fresh meat range with low prices the company said had been benchmarked against the leading supermarkets. In the same month, Booker pledged to lock down the prices of key groceries for its independent retail customers, again to help them compete against the multiples. The freeze on prices would be long-term, it pledged.

"This year will be about building on the planks we laid last year," says Wilson, who claims not to miss the big stage of Marks & Spencer. "With the independents we serve, plus 260,000 caterers, Booker is a big enough stage for me."

Most in the industry agree that wholesale needs a strong and healthy Booker. Wilson is playing his part in building just that.