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Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland to step down after ‘disappointing’ Christmas sales

PUBLISHED: 09:57 07 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:37 07 January 2016

Mark Bolland  and Steve Rowe of Marks and Spencer.

Mark Bolland and Steve Rowe of Marks and Spencer.

Marks & Spencer revealed today that chief executive Marc Bolland is to retire in April as it reported a plunge in pre-Christmas sales for its fashion division.

Mr Bolland, who has been at the helm of M&S for six years, will be replaced by Steve Rowe, currently head of the chain’s general merchandise business, who has worked at the company for more than a quarter of a century.

Details of the change at the top came as M&S posted a 5.8% fall in like-for-like sales within its general merchandise business, which includes clothing, in the 13 weeks to December 26. The company blamed the weak figure on unusually mild weather and poor stock availability.

Mr Bolland said today it had been “a huge honour to lead one of Britain’s most iconic companies”.

He added: “I am delighted to hand over to Steve Rowe as my successor. I have worked closely with Steve for six years and I am convinced that he will be a great leader for Marks & Spencer.”

Mr Bolland, who took on the post of chief executive in early 2010, will hand over to Mr Rowe at the end of the group’s financial year on April 2, but will remain on hand to help with the handover until the end of June.

Robert Swannell, chairman of M&S, paid tribute to Mr Bolland’s achievements at the top. “Over the last six years Marc Bolland has led Marks & Spencer through a period of necessary change,” he said.

“It is now positioned for a digital age, with its own online platform and dedicated e-commerce distribution centre, improved design and sourcing capabilities in general merchandise and an industry-leading track record of growth and innovation in the food business.”

The announcement comes after further woes in the group’s troubled clothing division, with Mr Bolland admitting the performance over the festive season was “disappointing”.

The decline in like-for-like sales, which followed a 1.9% drop in the previous three months, came as the group resisted pressure to discount early despite widespread sales launched on the high street ahead of Christmas as mild weather hit demand for winter clothing.

However, there was better news from the chain’s food halls, as it hailed its “best ever Christmas”, with a 0.4% rise in like-for-like sales over the quarter to December 26 against challenging conditions in the sector.

There has been speculation over Mr Bolland’s future at M&S for some time as he has battled to turn around the fortunes of the general merchandise division.

He batted away speculation last autumn over plans to depart, but today insisted he had always looked to step down after around six years.

He said: “From the outset I made it clear this was about a five or six-year journey, which is healthy for any chief executive in business.”

He added he remained “passionate” about M&S but stressed: “You’re never finished in your role.”

Mr Bolland said he was ready for the “next stage” in his life, but remained tight-lipped on future plans except to say he will continue on the board of Coca-Cola and as vice-president of children’s charity Unicef.

Mr Rowe will take the post on an annual salary of £810,000, plus benefits and bonuses. He said: “It is a great privilege to be appointed CEO of Marks & Spencer and to have the opportunity to lead this unique company and all its people forward.”

Retail expert Clive Black at Shore Capital said: “Mr Bolland, a distinguished commercial statesman, has done a lot of very good work to fundamentally modernise and reposition M&S to be fit for the future in sustainably challenging markets.

“His successor from April, the excellent Steve Rowe, has a much stronger platform with which to take the business forward than Mr Bolland inherited.”

But he said the performance by M&S’s general merchandise business over the Christmas quarter was “demonstrably disappointing” and weaker even than rival Next, which shocked the market earlier this week with a fall in festive store sales and sharp slowdown in its Directory catalogue and online arm.

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