The boss of Marks & Spencer is OUT after another tough Christmas

After years of speculation as to how long he can stay in the job, Marc Bolland is finally ending his time as CEO of Marks & Spencer.

On Thursday, the retailer confirmed in a statement that Bolland will be retiring in April, to be replaced by Steve Rowe, a 25-year M&S veteran who currently heads the general merchandise division (which for M&S mostly means clothes).

Bolland will be paid up till the end on January 2017, in line with his notice period, and could still get a bonus under the 2015/16 scheme.

Bolland took over as boss of M&S in 2009 but has had a tough time in charge from the start.

He was meant to help improve clothing sales but the Dutchman presided over 14 straight quarters — three and a half years — of declining sales in general merchandise. He particularly struggled to turn around sales of women’s clothes, which is seen as the bread and butter of Marks & Spencer’s business.

M&S managed to halt that decline at the start of last year, but at its half-year report in November the retailer admitted clothing sales had dropped off by 1.2%.

The retailer on Thursday also announced a big drop in general merchandise sales in the third quarter. Sales collapsed 5% in the Christmas quarter, or 5.8% if you don’t include sales from new shops opened in the year.

M&S blamed “unseasonal weather” for the dip, something rival NEXT this week also blamed for a tough Christmas. But it also admits it “fell short on availability” — something it has been criticised for before — and says: “We acknowledge there is more to do to address the disappointing GM [general merchandise] sales.”

Here are the other highlights from the update:

  • Best ever Christmas for food sales — up 3.7%;
  • M&S.com sales up 20.9%;
  • Margin guidance upgraded to the top end of the guided range of +200 to +250bps.

New CEO Rowe took over the struggling general merchandise division last July. Prior to that, he helped to build Marks & Spencer’s food division into a heavyweight player, overseeing 12 straight quarters of sales growth.

M&S chairman Robert Swannell says in today’s statement:

Over the last six years, 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.

The Board is very grateful to Marc for his leadership in this important period of enhancing Marks & Spencer’s competitive position for its future.

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.

Bolland says in the same statement:

It has been a huge honour to lead one of Britain’s most iconic companies. I am delighted to handover to Steve Rowe as my successor. I have worked closely with Steve for six years and I am convinced that he will be a great leader for Marks & Spencer. I would like to thank all my colleagues and the Board at Marks & Spencer for being so supportive of the drive to prepare M&S for the future. I am proud to leave such a large group of talent behind in the business.

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