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Judith McKenna favourite for Asda top job

CFO with diverse non-financial experience and strong presentation skills is the frontrunner, says Melanie Stern

An apprenticeship of 14 years should be more than long enough for Judith KcKenna, the chief financial officer (CFO) at Asda who many expect will be appointed its chief executive following the resignation of Andy Bond.

McKenna, who joined the Wal-Mart-owned supermarket group in 1996 and has been CFO since 2001, is the bookies’ favourite for the job ahead of colleagues including Asda’s chief operating officer Andy Clarke and Wal-Mart Canada CEO David Cheesewright.

The odds also favour her over another CFO, supermarket sector heavyweight and turnaround expert Richard Pennycook, FD at Wm Morrison,thought to be a contender.

If McKenna gets the job, she will have the added comfort of her predecessor still being in the building. Bond takes on the chairmanship at Asda on a part-time basis – which would set the environment for a smooth handover.

Wal-Mart has a reputation for hiring insiders, so McKenna’s chances seem strong. But it would more likely be her credentials that clinched the deal than already being a club member, given the task Asda has of maintaining ground against its rivals.

Her 14 years with Asda have taken her through roles in property, construction and store development prior to her appointment as group financial controller and then group commercial finance director, before she became group CFO. She joined Asda from financial roles with Allied Domecq and Carlsberg Tetley, after qualifying with KPMG.

If reputation is everything then McKenna has it sewn up: journalists, colleagues and businesspeople alike have little other than high praise to offer when talking about everything from her financial skills to her likeability.

With a diverse CV – though most of that diversity comes from one business – McKenna is seen by Retail Week as “sharp, savvy and not afraid of tough decisions”, while others note that she is a rare female voice in the UK supermarket game’s top brass.

A refreshingly no-nonsense attitude came through when she spoke with Financial Director about her thoughts on the coming year at the end of 2007.

“We must make sure we don’t talk ourselves into a bigger crisis,” McKenna told us when we asked if she was concerned about the UK economy and what advice she had for other FDs. “I will ask my team to ensure they continue to work in partnership with the business, getting out to stores and across our trading floor to ensure we really understand what is going on, so we can provide first-class decisions and support.”

Pressed on where she thought the FTSE-100 index would settle by the close of 2008, she simply said: “I have often thought a crystal ball would be a useful tool to do this job.”

An interesting aside: McKenna is married to Punch Taverns FD Phil Dutton. Financial Director will resist the urge to quip about IFRS over breakfast or who is in charge of the Saturday grocery shopping bill.

Read our 2007 interview with Judith McKenna here

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