Business

Marks and Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland to quit

Marks & Spencer store Image copyright Getty Images

Marks and Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland is to step down in April, the company said as it announced its Christmas results.

Mr Bolland will be succeeded by Steve Rowe, executive director of general merchandise.

Third-quarter sales of general merchandise were down by 5.8% for the 13 weeks to 26 December.

But M&S said it had an "excellent quarter" for food, with record sales in the Christmas week.

Investors reacted positively, with Marks and Spencer shares rising more than 1% in morning trading.

There was no pressure on Mr Bolland to leave from shareholders or the board, Marks and Spencer chairman Robert Swannell said on a conference call with reporters. Mr Bolland is retiring after six years in the role.

"There has been absolutely no pressure at all on Marc [to leave]," Mr Swannell said, adding that succession planning had been "rigorous".

Planning Mr Bolland's succession had not been done "quickly on the back of an envelope", but instead had been a process that had gone on "for years", Mr Swannell added.

He declined to discuss whether Marks and Spencer had considered external candidates, but said the firm had used "external benchmarking" during a "thorough, rigorous process" to select candidates.

Mr Bolland had informed the board in the summer of 2015 of his intention to leave in mid-2016, he said.

Image copyright Adrian Brooks / Imagewise
Image caption Mr Rowe will take over as chief executive of M&S in April

Mr Rowe will receive a salary of £810,000 from 2 April 2016 as part of his chief executive remuneration package, the firm said.

He has been employed by the firm for more than 25 years, and has had roles including director of retail and e-commerce and positions in general merchandise.


Analysis:

Simon Jack, BBC business correspondent

Marc Bolland's departure comes as Marks and Spencer reported dire Christmas trading figures. Sales of general merchandise, which includes clothes, were 5.8% lower than last year - a result the company blamed on unseasonably warm weather and poor stock availability.

Marc Bolland has been at the company since 2010, after four years at grocer Morrisons, and while the food business has thrived, he has struggled to revive the clothing business despite investing hundreds of millions of pounds on revamps.

In October last year, Mr Bolland told investors the turnaround plan was working and he gave no impression then of leaving before the job was done. Today's figures illustrate that it's not.

The company insisted the decision to step down was Marc Bolland's own and that he informed the board at the end of last year that he wanted to retire in April. He will be succeeded by Steve Rowe, currently executive director of general merchandise, having previously been in charge of the retailer's food business for almost three years. He has been with the company 25 years, and a board member since 2012, so will know first hand what a difficult job he is taking on.


Christmas sales

Marks and Spencer's third quarter general merchandise sales, which include clothing, were "disappointing", the firm said.

The 5.8% drop in sales was put down to "unseasonal conditions and availability". Retailers such as Next also blamed unseasonably warm weather in December for disappointing sales.

However, food sales for Marks and Spencer were up 0.4% in the third quarter, and the retailer said it had record sales in the Christmas week, up 17%.

Online sales rose more than 20% in the quarter, it added.

Marks and Spencer has had recurrent problems in general merchandise for a number of years. For example, in the six months to 26 September 2015, sales fell 1.2%.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers, said that the change at the top could lead to some uncertainty.

"There will be some inevitable uncertainty after any change at the helm, although the new chief executive - although an M&S lifer - has been in charge of general merchandise (GM) for only a relatively short period," Mr Hunter said.

"The wider issue could be that despite attempts to revitalise GM for some considerable time, little of note has materialised, and it could well be that Marc Bolland has decided that a fresh pair of eyes are required."

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