The M&S succession has long been a good spectator sport. But I think Stuart Rose has pulled off quite a coup with Marc Bolland.
Succession struggles at M&S are one of this nation’s favourite spectator sports. Ten years ago, one of the first features I ever wrote for MT concerned the mess that the legendary Sir Richard Greenbury got himself into when trying to shoehorn a bloke called Peter Salsbury into the top job. We called it ‘King Richard: A tragedy in Three Acts‘. After that debacle, M&S worked its way through Luc Vandervelde and the hapless Roger Holmes, before matinee idol Stuart Rose came to the rescue – eventually becoming the darling who had his picture taken with check-outs operatives whenever he visited stores.
The hundreds of column inches and hours of TV time devoted to Marc Bolland and his new role are quite extraordinary. My sense is that Rose has scored a real coup with netting ‘Billion Pound’ Bolland, as he as already been named. And it’s a coup for many reasons. Bolland is a hot-shot and clearly has talent – anyone who can successfully run a lager stall in the Democratic republic of Congo is worth watching. Some have moaned that he knows nothing about clothing but he knew very little about food retailing before he arrived at Morrisons. Besides, M&S’s food department needs a long, hard look at the moment (although including marmite and Kellogg’s cornflakes on the shelves might help).
But, most importantly, he’s an outsider. As such, he won’t have such a sense of who the sacred cows are and where they graze in the M&S pasture. There are some tough decisions to be made at M&S over the next two years that may well involve some startling changes of approach. The organisation is being squeezed in the middle ground it occupies both in food and clothing. Bolland has the swagger of a marketing man and an internationalist. He won’t mind ruffling a few feathers.
Rose knows this, and that’s why when asked why he went for Bolland he said: ‘He is a turnaround expert, and we are a business where in some areas we need to make changes. He has the energy, the youth and the desire to do it. Pace is important, we live in an increasingly global environment. Marc is an energetic man and I imagine he will act at pace.’ The winds of change are about to start gusting through Paddington basin.