Nov 9, 2017
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M&S chairman admits to 20 years of failure, praises CEO's appetite for change

Nov 9, 2017

M&S may have seen a lot of change over the past 20 years but it hasn’t really got to grips with the changes that have happened in the retail sector and that’s what’s causing its current woes.


That’s the view of non-executive chairman Archie Norman, the turnaround specialist parachuted in 70 days ago to help CEO Steve Rowe sort out the chain’s problems.

Speaking after Rowe delivered the latest set of results and another shift in its strategy, Norman said that the company hadn’t kept pace with more nimble rivals and blamed previous management, although he praised Rowe’s willingness to change the firm.

The company, which had been headed by CEOs including Sir Stuart Rose and Marc Bolland before Rowe took the top job, first ran into trouble almost two decades ago and has been in almost-permanent turnaround mode ever since, despite still generating massive sales and profits.

It has suffered as more affordable and on-trend retailers, as well as supermarkets and e-tailers, have stolen clothing market share. And it hasn’t yet got its own e-tail ops to the point where they are helping to drive sales significantly forward.

Norman said Steve Rowe has been “grasping a few nettles and slaughtering a few sacred cows”, according to reports, And he said this is necessary after “over not five years but probably 15 and maybe even 20 years, [where] the business has failed to change in line with the customer and as quickly as the competition.”

He said that failure to change was less about the right strategy and more about "the organisation, the culture and the capability.”

M&S is now set to slow down its headfirst rush into expanding its food operations and look again at its clothing ops. That should mean a greater focus on core areas of strength such as kidswear, intimates and menswear with less space devoted to womenswear. But it’s unclear whether Norman’s reported idea of focusing more on trends and younger shoppers or Rowe’s targeting of the core older “Mrs M&S” will be the eventual strategy winner on womenswear.

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