Marks & Spencer (M&S) has a new chief executive waiting in the wings now Marc Bolland has made clear his intention to retire this spring. Produce Business UK takes a look at what the marketplace can expect from new broom Steve Rowe, who has some solid credentials under his belt within the retailer’s food business in particular
As Marc Bolland announces his retirement from the position of CEO at M&S – variously described as “surprise” or the result of “careful succession planning”, depending whether you subscribe to the media or official view – Steve Rowe, who steps up from his role as director of general merchandise, has some large boots to fill.
Chairman Swannell’s stance
Surprise or not, the retirement is certainly early seeing as the Dutchman, who joined the iconic retailer from Morrisons in 2010, is just 56 years old.
Robert Swannell, M&S group chairman said of the announcement on January 7: “Marc Bolland has led Marks & Spencer through a period of necessary change. Over this time, the company has made significant investment in enhanced infrastructure and capabilities.
“It is now positioned for a digital age, with its own online platform and dedicated e-commerce distribution centre, improved design and sourcing capabilities in general merchandise and an industry-leading track record of growth and innovation in the food business. Marc has put Plan A at the heart of the business and leaves a strong sustainability legacy.”
Rowe seems more than capable for the task and is certainly a dyed-in-the-wool M&S man having joined the group back in 1989.
Swannell noted: “I am delighted that, after the most rigorous succession planning, Marc will be succeeded by Steve Rowe. Steve has a deep knowledge of Marks & Spencer and a proven track record of delivering results in key parts of the business. The nomination committee was unanimous in supporting Steve’s appointment in the light of his considerable knowledge of the business and its people, his appetite to continue the process of change […] his perceptive and effective problem solving, his values and his observed leadership.”
The handover will see Bolland continue until the end of the firm’s financial year on April 2, when Rowe will take up the reins. However, Bolland will remain “available” to Rowe and the rest of the board until the end of June to help with the transition process.
Rowe, who describes his appointment as “a great privilege”, celebrates 25 years with the company in 2016. He has held a range of senior positions across the business, including director of retail and e-commerce, as well as several roles in general merchandise.
But his experience is not limited to non-food given that Rowe has been a director at M&S since 2012 when Bolland first appointed him to the executive team as executive director of food, and he found himself on the group’s board.
Since then, and during particularly difficult market conditions, Rowe has steered M&S’s food business to 12 consecutive quarters of like-for-like growth, as well as ramping up the division’s margin and other major performance metrics until six months ago when he moved across to the director’s role in general merchandising.
Q3 and beyond
The handover comes at an interesting time for the premium UK grocery retailer, considering Bolland’s announcement coincides with M&S’s best Christmas ever for food against a backdrop of a tricky environment for general merchandise. Food sales rose 3.7%; (+0.4% like-for-like) and outperformed the marketplace, with a record 17% uplift during the all-important Christmas week.
While the retailer itself describes its general merchandise sales as “disappointing” – they fell 5% (like-for-like -5.8%) due to “unseasonal conditions and availability” – Bolland noted that unseasonably warm weather in December hit consumer clothing purchase patterns. Furthermore, while other UK retailers discounted heavily throughout the month, M&S chose not to, and, in so doing, protected gross profit margin.