Its shares fell by just over 1% to 539p on Friday after it was confirmed that John Dixon, the head of the struggling clothing division, had quit after almost three decades with the company.
The departure of Dixon - once viewed as favourite to replace Bolland when he leaves – has left investors to ponder who will be the next boss at M&S.
Focus has been placed on three internal candidates: Steve Rowe, the former head of food who has now taken over the clothing division from Dixon; Helen Weir, the new finance director; and Laura Wade-Gery, the head of the retailer’s multi-channel strategy.
Bolland, who joined M&S as chief executive in 2010, revealed at its AGM last week that sales in clothing and homeware had slipped back again. The company had reported the first rise in clothing sales for four years just a few months ago. In May, Bolland sought to quell suggestions he would be stepping down, saying he would “absolutely” be around to present annual results next year.
“Clearly, Bolland says he is committed for another year, but he would be well advised not to leave it too late to move on to pastures new, lest something else go wrong,” retail analyst Nick Bubb said.
Dixon was until recently tipped as a contender to take over from Bolland. He announced that he was leaving “this great company” after being given the chance to become chief executive at another firm. It is not yet clear which company.
Since being appointed head of M&S’s general-merchandise division three years ago, he had failed to arrest the decline in sales, which were down 2.5% last year. He received a bonus of £217,000 last year, the lowest payout to any of the company’s executive directors.
Jonathan De Mello, the head of retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs, said there was still a lot of confusion among shoppers about who M&S’ clothes were aimed at, with too many lines and different product categories.
The division will now be run by Rowe, who was described by Bubb as the favoured internal candidate for the top job. But retail industry observers immediately queried whether running clothing and homewares would be a poisoned chalice for Rowe’s future ambitions, despite his success in the food devision. Dixon successfully ran food before switching to fashion.
Who are the contenders to take over from Marc Bolland?
With M&S for the last 26 years, Rowe has worked in store management, in menswear and furniture. He was appointed director of the home division in 2004 and then director of retail. He headed up the food division from October 2012. Rowe’s father, Joe, was a director of Marks & Spencer until 2000.
Wade-Gery held a series of roles with Tesco between 1997 and 2011, amongst them chief executive of Tesco.com and Tesco Direct, before she joined the board of M&S. The Oxford ice-hockey blue faced a difficult initial period at the company when she presided over the botched relaunch of the M&S website in February 2014, which hit sales. The retailer spent £150m revamping its website with more video and magazine-style content, but many customers struggled to register, leaving sales 2% down over the year. The fortunes of the website appear to have been turned around with a trading update in May showing a 13.8pc rise in online sales.
Weir joined the company as chief finance officer on April 1 this year after working as finance director of the John Lewis Partnership. She spent nearly a decade at the B&Q owner Kingfisher before becoming finance director at Lloyds Banking Group in 2004. She later led its retail division in 2008 but left in 2011 after missing out on the top job to António Horta-Osório. Weir was forced to repay bonuses linked to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and in 2013 apologised for the episode and said she regretted the damage it has caused the banking industry.
Possible external contenders include: Justin King, who stepped down as Sainsbury’s boss in July 2014; Talk Talk’s chief executive, Dido Harding, who was previously Sainsbury’s convenience director; Seb James, the CEO of Dixons Carphone; and the former head of WH Smith Kate Swann.
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