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Rowe to take reins at M&S as Bolland set to stand down

By Margaret Canning and PA

Published 08/01/2016

Steve Rowe of M&S meets staff during a visit to Sprucefield store at Lisburn last year
Steve Rowe of M&S meets staff during a visit to Sprucefield store at Lisburn last year
Marc Bolland

Maks and Spencer's Steve Rowe is stepping up to the top spot at the company after Marc Bolland resigned over yet another disappointing Christmas performance.

Mr Bolland will retire in April after six years at the helm as M&S posted a dire Christmas performance from its womenswear division.

His replacement has worked at M&S for more than 25 years.

A former executive director of food, Steve Rowe was promoted to head up the general merchandise division last year.

In an exclusive interview with Business Telegraph in February, Mr Rowe revealed how his father Joe had also been head of food for M&S.

During a visit to the M&S Food Hall at Belfast's Donegall Place, Mr Rowe jnr described how his father worked at the chain at the time of its first opening here in the late 1960s.

Mr Rowe snr had appointed O'Kane Poultry in Ballymena as a supplier to M&S - a relationship which continues with O'Kane owner Moy Park.

Details of the change at the top came as M&S revealed like-for-like sales in its general merchandise arm, which includes clothing, slumped by 5.8% in the 13 weeks to December 26.

The weak figures were blamed on unusually mild weather and poor stock availability.

M&S currently has eight Simply Food stores around the province, and 10 larger stores selling food and other lines.

Mr Bolland had batted away speculation last autumn over plans to depart, but 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."

But praise for his successor was lavish. M&S chairman Robert Swannell said Mr Rowe had overseen a "truly outstanding" performance at the food division during his three years in charge.

This came against a ferocious price war in the sector and increasing competition that has seen the Big Four players suffer dismal trading.

He took on the mantle at the clothing division last July, although he has yet to replicate the food success, not helped by recent unusual weather conditions.

Rowe jnr's first job was in Covent Garden Flower Market.

He joined Topshop in store management aged 18, and M&S in 1989.

There were seven years in fashion, followed by some time in homeware. He joined the executive board in 2008 and ran the food division from 2012.

He had never worked in the food department, but managed to produce 12 quarters of like-for-like sales growth in a row.

Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital, described Mr Rowe as "excellent", while others were quick to back his appointment.

Kate Calvert, retail expert at Investec, said: "He has significant experience across the whole business, having also run the food division and store operations historically and his appointment is likely to be well received."

Another market expert said: "Steve Rowe knows M&S inside out and indications are that he is ready to make the tough decisions needed to turnaround clothing."

Belfast Telegraph

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