Comment: Asos brought down to earth

KATE Bostock’s departure from online fashion retailer Asos after little more than six months is embarrassing for an employer which invested so much time trying to recruit her.

Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL

It may also tell us something about the way the sector has developed and the challenges it throws up.

Bostock was the Marks & Spencer high flyer, the head of general merchandise which includes the all-important womenswear ranges. She was credited with revitalising the high street stalwart’s offering and was certainly among former chief executive Sir Stuart Rose’s favourites.

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Asos courted her for at least a year to become product and trading director so that when she eventually left M&S last October it came as no surprise, even if it was seen as a blow to its own efforts at fending off problems in its general merchandising division.

Her new employer tasked her with bringing efficiencies to its sourcing operation as it expanded overseas. But right from the off analysts were questioning the wisdom of her move. In a list of ones to watch published at the turn of the year, Scotland on Sunday, The Scotsman’s sister paper, predicted that she “will have trouble fitting in with such a vibrant young company”.

Her statement yesterday in which she said “it isn’t the right place for me”, confirmed that she had made what seems to have been a rare error of judgment.

Her decision does not appear to be an issue of performance, more one of not seeing eye to eye with Asos founder Nick Robertson. The exact detail behind their differences is not known but retail is a varied animal, more so now that it embraces the virtual world, and selling has changed from when Bostock first came into the trade.

There is speculation as to where she will turn up, though at 56 and already having made a decent living she could retire. She is a veteran of the sector, having worked at Next and Geerge at Asda before joining M&S almost a decade ago. It’s more likely she will see at least one more good job in her, perhaps with Arcadia, New Look or even Ocado where Rose is chairman.

US numbers up and recovery on track

THE banks may have been cut down in size and forced to temper their exuberance but they still offer a key barometer as to the health of an economy.

Four US banks have turned in good results in the past few days – Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo.

Mortgage applications are rising, indicating an end to the housing slump that prompted the 2008 financial crash, and loans generally are higher.

Together with rising job numbers and industrial production and the repatriation of some manufacturing work from overseas, there is hope that the US will not only pick up momentum, but will lift other depressed economies up with it.

There is a growing sense that the recovery is taking hold in the UK, too, with surveys pointing to greater confidence and deals coming back into fashion. As we report today, more Scots companies are hoping to hire staff. The rise in inflation was lower than expected and it may have peaked. While this may allow for more money to be printed, improving conditions would make such a move unnecessary.

However, there is a need to be cautious about recovery as slowing growth in China and continuing problems in the eurozone will be a drag on growth.