• Marc Bolland to retire in April, to be succeeded by Steve Rowe
  • Comes after “disappointing” general merchandise like-for-like sales fall of 5.8% ahead of Christmas 
  • Like-for-like food sales edge up 0.4% during the 13 weeks to December 26

Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland is quitting the retailer and will and hand the baton to executive director of general merchandise Steve Rowe.

Bolland will step down at the end of the financial year on April 2 after six years with Marks & Spencer, but will “remain available” to Rowe and the board until June 30 to “assist the transition”.

Former Morrisons boss Bolland had come under increasing pressure, primarily as a result of its underperforming general merchandise division.   

The change at the top was revealed as M&S unveiled “disappointing” Christmas trading figures in that sector. Fashion sales were hit by unseasonal weather conditions and stock availability issues.

M&S added that heavy promotional activity in the market, which started during the Black Friday period and “intensified” during December, also contributed to a 5% fall in general merchandise sales. Like-for-likes in the category plunged 5.8% during the quarter.

But M&S said gross margin improved “significantly” during the period following improvements in sourcing and the decision to hold back from heavy discounting. 

Bosses also hailed “an excellent quarter” in its food business. Sales advanced 3.7% and edged up 0.4% on a like-for-like basis in the 13 weeks to December 26. Sales soared 17% in the key Christmas week, the retailer added.

Online sales through M&S.com surged 20.9%, driven by “strong” customer traffic visiting the ecommerce platform. 

The performance of its food division and the website meant M&S’s overall like-for-like sales in the UK dropped 2.5% during the period. 

Change at the top

On his impending departure, Bolland said: “It has been a huge honour to lead one of Britain’s most iconic companies. I am delighted to handover to Steve Rowe as my successor. I have worked closely with Steve for six years and I am convinced that he will be a great leader for Marks & Spencer.

“I would like to thank all my colleagues and the board at Marks & Spencer for being so supportive of the drive to prepare M&S for the future. I am proud to leave such a large group of talent behind in the business.”

M&S chairman Robert Swannell lauded Bolland for leading the retailer through “a period of necessary change”. He said the business had made “significant investment in enhanced infrastructure and capabilities” during his tenure and insisted that Bolland would leave behind “a strong sustainability legacy”.

Swannell said M&S was “now positioned for a digital age” and added: “Marc has put Plan A at the heart of the business and leaves a strong sustainability legacy. The board is very grateful to Marc for his leadership in this important period of enhancing Marks & Spencer’s competitive position for its future.

“I am delighted that, after the most rigorous succession planning, Marc will be succeeded by Steve Rowe. Steve has a deep knowledge of Marks & Spencer and a proven track record of delivering results in key parts of the business.”

Rowe, an M&S veteran of more than 25 years, described the opportunity to succeed Bolland as “a great privilege”.

He has been a board member since 2012 and previously worked in a range of other senior positions including director of retail and ecommerce and executive director of food. During his time in this role, Rowe led the food business to 12 consecutive quarters of like-for-like sales growth. 

Rowe took the helm of M&S’s general merchandise business earlier this year following the shock departure of John Dixon, who had also been touted as a potential successor to Bolland.