New Marks & Spencer boss Steve Rowe is used to life on the frontline having been with the retailer for most of the last 26 years.

Rowe started on the shop floor at M&S and worked his way up from store management roles to his current position as boss of its general merchandise division.

Though cigar-smoking Rowe has been described as an M&S lifer, it’s a moniker he does not wear comfortably, having jumped ship from the soaring Topshop to join what he has described as a “Grace Brothers” like retailer, before becoming a key part of the turnaround under the auspices of Sir Stuart Rose.

Rowe, who takes the reins from Marc Bolland in April, weathered the early 1990s recession with M&S and maintains that the business was better prepared as a result when the financial crisis hit in 2008.

He was appointed director of retail and a member of the executive committee in March 2008, becoming director of retail and e-commerce in 2009. He then reverted to director of retail in 2011, before being appointed as executive director of food in October 2012. 

As food head he won praise for sustaining momentum amid grocery market turmoil.

He was rewarded by being given the role of general merchandise chief last July, following John Dixon’s exit.

Well liked and his status enhanced, Rowe was tipped then as a strong contender to become chief executive.