LONDON — Luc Vandevelde will step down from his post as chairman of Marks and Spencer Group plc, responding to pressure from institutional shareholders who say he isn’t paying enough attention to the British retailer.
M&S, the U.K.’s largest clothing retailer with an 11.3 percent share of the market, said in a statement Monday that Vandevelde “has indicated” he wants to leave the company’s board of directors.
The statement said the Belgian executive’s decision was prompted by personal commitments made to the Halley family, which has an 11 percent stake in the French mass retailer Carrefour. As reported in March, Vandevelde filled the late Paul Louis Halley’s place on Carrefour’s board, and in France, press speculation that he will succeed Carrefour chairman Daniel Bernard has been rampant. Bernard, however, has denied Vandevelde will take over the post.
The Carrefour position is one of Vandevelde’s many jobs. He represents the Halley family’s investment entity, Citra; he is chairman of Change Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and he sits on the board of Vodafone.
He earns about $864,000 a year in his part-time role as chairman of M&S. Last year, Roger Holmes replaced him as ceo at the British company.
An M&S spokeswoman said a search was already under way for Vandevelde’s replacement, although she said there was no deadline, nor was there a specific date when Vandevelde would leave.
“Our concern centers on where Luc’s long-term priorities and commitments lie,” said Rupert Trotter, retail analyst at Isis Asset Management, which holds a stake in M&S. “That said, we think he’s done a commendable job: He appointed the management team that’s in place today, he’s made enormous improvements to the supply chain and he will ensure a sensible handover.”
According to sources, M&S wants a new chairman in place by its annual general shareholders meeting in July. The spokeswoman also declined to comment on potential candidates for the position.
Candidates mooted by investors include Stuart Rose, a retail veteran who turned around the Arcadia Group and sold it for $1.2 billion in 2002. He is currently chairman of the British Fashion Council and holds a number of non-executive board positions.
Other possible candidates include Archie Norman, the conservative member of parliament and former chairman of Asda who helped turn around the supermarket chain now owned by Wal-Mart, and David Varney, the departing chairman of MMO2, the mobile phone company, who is also a non-executive director of M&S.
None could be reached for comment on Monday.
Shareholders and industry observers say what M&S needs is an experienced merchant, and an effective communicator, at its helm.
“They need someone with retail experience, and execution needs to be that person’s key focus,” said Trotter, adding that Rose and Norman were the “obvious” choices. “It’s about selling things that people want to buy in the manner in which they want to buy them. That person needs to be a risk-taker and know how to delegate.”
George Wallace, ceo at Management Horizons Europe, a London-based consultancy, said M&S needs a “natural merchant” and effective communicator to complement the corporate management skills of ceo Roger Holmes.