Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose could be forgiven for feeling he is experiencing a bittersweet groundhog day.
Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose could be forgiven for feeling he is experiencing a bittersweet groundhog day. As he prepares to cast off from his Paddington moorings, there are echoes of the circumstances of his arrival back in 2004. After being put through the mill, M&S looks poised for growth under new leadership - this time, though, it won’t be his.
And the retailer’s share price, which has been as low as 321.9p this year, is back up above 400p - the talismanic figure put on the business by tycoon Sir Philip Green as he stalked M&S and a valuation subsequently smashed then lost again during Rose’s tenure.
The share price rise reflects last week’s better-than-expected second-quarter update and, once again, the hopes being pinned on a new man in charge - this time it is former Morrisons boss Marc Bolland.
While Bolland did the interviews last week, credit for M&S’s improving fortunes must go in large measure to Rose. While he courted City controversy with an approach to corporate governance condemned as cavalier, M&S has not deviated from the strategic vision Rose outlined in 2004 for a modernised M&S true to its founding principles.
While there have been some trading and operational misses - perhaps epitomised by the disastrous hiring of Steve Esom as food director - M&S’s traditional strengths, such as quality and value, have been reclaimed and delivered results.
That is not to say that the business can stand still. Many challenges remain, including the perennial retail problem of maintaining appeal to successive generations of consumers. M&S was slow into online trading and that must now represent a big future opportunity.
But it is unlikely that Bolland will want to change the basic recipe. Tinkering with the tried-and-trusted ingredients led to the decline that necessitated Rose being parachuted in in the first place. The challenge facing Bolland is to keep M&S relevant without losing its fundamental appeal. A bit like back in 2004.