LONDON — Marks and Spencer chief executive officer Marc Bolland is to step down later this year and be replaced by Steve Rowe, currently the store’s executive director of general merchandise and the man who presided over the retailer’s robust food business, which outperformed the market in the third quarter.
The retailer said Bolland wanted to “retire” after six years in his role, which has been marred by struggling clothing and general merchandise sales. In a separate statement Thursday, the store said sales of general merchandise fell 5 percent in the third quarter ended Dec. 26 due to “unseasonal conditions and availability.” The store has been consistently blaming the weather for its underperformance in clothing.
M&S, once a bellwether of British high street clothing sales, has battled to keep up with the likes of rivals such as Zara, Hennes & Mauritz and Next. As a result, Bolland’s departure has long been mooted.
But during a conference call early Thursday, group chairman Robert Swannell said categorically there was “no pressure” from shareholders or the board for Bolland to retire, and that a succession plan had been in place ever since he and Bolland took up their roles.
Bolland, a Dutch national who was headhunted from the UK supermarket chain Morrisons, said his term at M&S “rounds off 10 years in the UK retail. I think I must be one of the longest-serving ceo’s in UK retail. True, you are never finished and completely ready to leave, but it’s a nice milestone and gives me a chance to do something else.”
Bolland will remain as ceo and a member of the board until the end of the current financial year on April 2, 2016 when he will hand over to Rowe. He will then remain available to Rowe and the board to assist in the transition until June 30, 2016, the store said. Bolland, 56, took over M&S in May of 2010, replacing Stuart Rose.
“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,” Swannell said in Thursday’s statement.
“It is now positioned for a digital age, with its own online platform and dedicated e-commerce distribution center, improved design and sourcing capabilities in general merchandise and an industry-leading track record of growth and innovation in the food business. The board is very grateful to Marc for his leadership in this important period.”
In the third quarter, Marks said it had its “best-ever Christmas” with regards to food, with sales up 3.7 percent and record sales growth of 17 percent in the key Christmas week.
Rowe has been with Marks and Spencer Group plc for more than 25 years and been a board member since 2012. He worked in a range of senior positions across the business including director of retail and e-commerce and in various positions in general merchandise.
In 2012, Bolland appointed him to the executive team as executive director of food, and he led that business to produce 12 consecutive quarters of like-for-like growth, grew its margin and all its key performance metrics, and set out a path for further profitable growth.
In July, he took up his current role as executive director of general merchandise with a mandate to improve the overall performance of that business, building on the improved design and sourcing capabilities.