Pity the man who has to step into Bolland’s shoes
If Mark Bolland can do half as well at M&S as he has done at Morrisons, he might even be worth the egregious sum of money the retailer had to cough up to get him to sign on the bottom line.
While Mr Bolland has now departed, yesterday saw the release of the final set of ‘his’ numbers, and they duly created a horrible headache for his successor.
Profits up by a fifth, a divvy up by two-fifths, and an increase in market share despite operating in a fiercely competitive sector — it really doesn't get much better than this.
Perhaps that was why the company was lukewarm about its future prospects — a judicious bit of expectations-management so new man Dalton Philips doesn't look too bad — and can justify his salary and bonus — if the next set of figures fail to keep up with the pace.
The interesting thing to note about how Bolland has pulled off the turnaround of Morrisons — which had only just begun to recover from the disastrous (non-) integration of Safeway when he took control — was the way he steadfastly ignored the prevailing supermarket groupthink.
If Bolland had followed the advice of the City, he'd have poured his group's energies into developing a non-food offering that would have always struggled compared with Tesco, plunged into online grocery and set up a loyalty card.
As it is, he concentrated his energies on shaking up the supply chain, improving Morrisons' processes (especially IT) and, most importantly, sharpening up the company's fresh-food offering — the core business.
It's worked, as well, and the concept of a grocer that concentrates on food (and is good at it) has proved rather successful. And there is still plenty of room (especially in the South) for the company to expand further this novel idea.
However, at least some of the groupthink should at least be on Mr Philips' mind as he settles in: Tesco has proved just how powerful a tool the loyalty card can be, and Morrisons may have cause to regret not having one.
The information he'd be able to glean about his customers on its own would be priceless. Online, too, will only increase its share of the market and looks like a serious hole in Morrisons' long-term plans.
As for Mr Bolland, can he pull off the same trick twice at M&S? That's not so easy.
It's very clear what Morrisons does and what it's there for. It offers quality food at competitive prices.
It's not so simple with M&S, which has changed tack more times than Ben Ainslie's Beijing gold medal-winning dinghy.
The trouble with M&S is that it's a middle-class institution whose customers, much less management, can't really decide what they want it to be on the wildly diverse modern high street.