LONDON — In a move that’s jolted the British retail world, Vittorio Radice has quit Selfridges plc to work at Marks & Spencer.
M&S said in a brief statement Monday that Radice, who has been chief executive of Selfridges since 1996, would become executive director of the M&S home business.
The position is a new one. Radice begins work in March and will report to Roger Holmes, chief executive of M&S.
At Selfridges, Radice will be succeeded by Peter Williams, the finance director at the company.
Radice, who turned Selfridges into a shoppers’ shrine packed with brands from Topshop to Louis Vuitton, said he was ready for a change — and the challenge of beefing up a small business.
And he doesn’t mind giving up the title of chief executive.
“The job is not as big, but the opportunity is enormous,” Radice said in a telephone interview. “Today, when people finish work, they have a desire to rush home and experience what’s there. They turn on the Internet, they take a shower massage, they listen to their surround-sound system. Life has changed, and that’s what the new home is about.
“But what do you find in home stores today? They offer you china and glass, sofas and chairs. Home furnishings are sold in a very old way — very Seventies — and that’s what interests me the most. I’m going to M&S to have some fun.”
He also insisted that he was not being groomed for a bigger executive role at the store.
Radice’s salary package is hefty, and will make him the second-highest-paid director on the M&S board after Holmes.
An M&S spokeswoman confirmed reports that Radice would receive approximately $1.9 million as a “golden hello.” That includes a base salary of $667,250 — which could double, depending on bonuses — and annual pension payments of $188,400.
All figures have been translated from pounds at current exchange rates.
For Radice, the move is a return to his roots. His family ran a furniture business near Italy’s Lake Como, and he was the managing director of the U.K. furniture chain Habitat from 1990 until 1996.
Ironically, Radice will also be working with a store that sells all its own brands. In November, at the WWD/DNR CEO Summit in New York, Radice electrified the audience with his vision of the department store — and the power of branded goods.
“Out with the departments and in with the brands. We give the brands the theater and they create the environment,” he said, describing his strategy at Selfridges.
Now, he said, he’s prepared to change his mind. “That is what Selfridges needed. But this is a different store, and in life, you need to change. I’m looking forward to the difference,” he said.
He said he believes there is common ground between Selfridges and M&S, even though the former is a young, hip brand emporium and the latter is as staid and middle-England as it gets.
“People today do not shop for product. They shop because they want to be the first to have something, to be the leader of the pack,” he said.
When Radice comes on board in March, he will be taking on one of the most underdeveloped businesses at M&S. The company’s home category has annual sales of $586 million, occupying just 2 percent of the country’s $47 billion market.
“We are very keen to move the home business forward, and we think there’s a gap in the middle of this market that we can fill,” said a spokeswoman for M&S. “Vittorio Radice has a major track record in this area, and is the most able retailer of his generation. He will give us the scale and the authority to move forward.”
M&S currently sells its home furnishings through its general sales points. It has one, 80,000-square-foot home furnishings store near Newcastle, and is scouting a site for a second store.
The questions, however, remain about Radice’s move. “He’s sensational, a brilliant retailer and he’s built one of the finest brand emporiums in the U.K., if not the world,” said George Wallace, chief executive of Management Horizons Europe, London-based retail specialists.
“But I’m surprised he hasn’t been given a wider brief at M&S. But maybe it’s just a signal of how big M&S wants to go with the home furnishings business,” Wallace added. “And there’s definitely room for that. We have no Crate & Barrel, no Pottery Barn. The market for the home is a bit wide-open in Europe.”