Marks and Spencer is one of the best-known companies in the UK, and combines a strong corporate identity (including management values and style) with serious questions about corporate viability.
The recent take-over approach by retailer Philip Green represents a powerful challenge to the management team and its recent attempts to balance the conflicting demands of identity and viability.
Green's proposition can be distilled down to this message: Allow me to impose my retail and management style, and watch me deliver higher and more sustainable profits.
The directors of Marks and Spencer have rejected this proposition, claiming that they can restore the fortunes of the company without the wholesale destruction of M&S values that Green was feared to be planning. Green has withdrawn, unwilling or unable to fund a higher offer. No doubt the large shareholders and affected banks have had private words with both sides, but the small shareholder has been left (as usual) without a voice.
The stakes are raised. M&S management now has to deliver results for the shareholders that are significantly better than accepting the Green offer, and this means they are going to have to take bold risks. Meanwhile Green's other companies are going to be competing hard. And it's all going to be played out in public, with frequent comments in the business press. Over the next year or so, we have a great opportunity to watch how the identity and viability of a large company develops or unravels.