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Retail CFOs dominate 2015 Financial Power List

THREE of the four chief financial officers to appear in Accountancy Age 2015 Financial Power List hail from retail, indicating the state of flux the sector is presently in, with roles at Tesco, M&S, Debenhams and John Lewis changing hands in the last year.

Tesco’s newly installed CFO Alan Stewart (pictured) is the highest ranked CFO – he appears at number six – on the list of individuals likely to influence the accountancy and finance professions. All eyes will be on Stewart as he attempts to steer the supermarket group away from the financial and credibility crisis gripping it.

The former Marks & Spencer finance chief was parachuted in two months early by Tesco after it admitted that it had overstated its profits by £263m. Restoring trust in Tesco’s finances since it revealed that its commercial department had booked huge payments from suppliers into the wrong accounting period will undoubtedly be top of the list.

After decades of success, Tesco and Stewart will be judged on their ability to turnaround Tesco’s fortunes and deal with the myriad problems of declining footfall, aggressive competition, a failed international strategy, a £3bn rescue rights issue, dividend cuts, executive departures, horse meat, profit warnings and a 50% fall in its share price.

City heavyweight Helen Weir appears at number 31 in the rankings. One of the UK’s most high-profile finance chiefs, Weir has just joined retail bellwether Marks & Spencer. The former head of Lloyds Banking Group’s retail division, Weir was trumped to the top job at the bank by António Horta-Osório and left shortly afterwards to join John Lewis. With stints at B&Q owner Kingfisher and Lloyds as FD, Weir is among the top CFOs in the UK and was recently described by City analyst Bethany Hocking as a “strong hire”.

Weir’s replacement at John Lewis appears below her at number 48. Loraine Woodhouse, acting CFO, John Lewis Partnership, makes the list because John Lewis remains a darling of market commentators as a well-run example of mutual/employee-owned business. She is also a CFO on the rise, having previously been recognised in Financial Director’s Ones to Watch initiative in July 2011 as FD of fashion retailer Hobbs.

Also among the highest ranked influencers is Simon Dingemans, CFO of GlaxoSmithKline and chairman of The Hundred Group of Finance Directors. Arguably the most powerful voice in the finance profession – and not for his day job as CFO of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline: Dingemans has been elected chairman of the highly influential Hundred Group of Finance Directors.

As chairman, he is in a unique position to represent the views of the companies which account for almost 90% of the market capitalisation of the FTSE 100 and collectively employ over 7% of the UK workforce. Dingemans will be lobbying for ways to improve UK competitiveness and enhance the contribution of big business. His predecessors Andy Halford and Robin Freestone have been vocal chairs – Dingemans’ muted reveal in the role goes against the group’s recent aim of being more open and transparent.

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