Marks & Spencer has confirmed that company lifer John Dixon is leaving to take up an opportunity elsewhere as a CEO. He’ll be replaced as head of general merchandise by Steve Rowe, while Belinda Earl remains as style director. Here we look at the characters involved:

Marks and Spencer - Belinda Earl, Steve Rowe and John Dixon

John Dixon

  • Appointed: Executive Director General Merchandise in 2012. Resigned July 2015.

John Dixon’s move among the management changes is the most pivotal of all. He takes over the general merchandise category – predominantly fashion- from Kate Bostock at the toughest of times.  Fashion has been underperforming, particularly womenswear, and Dixon’s challenge will be to refresh the offer and restore style credentials.

The highly regarded Dixon, who was appointed to the board in 2009, has clearly impressed boss Marc Bolland with his management of the food category, which he has headed up since 2008. Dixon has been instrumental in driving the food offer, which has continued to shore up the overall M&S business in recent quarters.

Now he will have to work his magic on general merchandise. He certainly has the M&S experience,  having joined in 1986 as a store management trainee. He proceeded to work in a range of senior roles across the business, including overseas-based retail roles. He has been executive assistant to former chief executive Sir Stuart Rose and director of multi-channel e-commerce and home.

Now Dixon will be able to add fashion to his armoury, making him the perfect candidate as Bolland’s successor after being overlooked for the chief executive role when the Dutchman was hired in 2010.

Steve Rowe

  • Currently: Executive Director of food
  • Appointed: Executive director General Merchandise July 2015

Steve Rowe is used to life on the frontline at Marks & Spencer and the current executive director of food will need all the skills honed over 23 years at the retailer in his new role as executive director food. He will join the Board from October 1, when he takes on the role vacated by John Dixon.

Having worked at M&S since 1989, cigar-smoking Rowe has been described as an M&S lifer, 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. He 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.

Among his achievements Rowe oversaw a reduction in shrinkage for the first time in more than a decade, while a major focus of his latest role has been to improve the customer experience - something he was determined to address when he joined M&S’s executive committee in March 2008.

Rowe’s stewardship of M&S’s Direct arm has also brought significant progress as the retailer forges ahead with its multichannel operations, which have remained a bright spot in its recent results.

In his new role Rowe will be expected to maintain arguably Marks & Spencer’s stand-out category, with food accounting for just over half of UK sales.

Belinda Earl

  • Formerly: Jaeger chief executive and Aquascutum
  • Appointed: Director of style from September 1

Belinda Earl’s role as style director at Marks & Spencer is a brand new position for the retailer, demonstrating it is acutely aware that it needs to boost its fashion credentials.

The role will be key in shaking up M&S’ fashion offering which has gone off the boil after a failed attempt to attract a younger audience.

Undoubtedly M&S was drawn to Earl’s impressive fashion experience. She began her career as a graduate trainee at Harrods, moving to Debenhams in 1985 in a merchandising role where she worked her way up through the ranks to the top job.

In 2000, she became chief executive of Debenhams at the tender age of 38.

But in recent years she has become better known for leading the Harold Tillman-backed upmarket clothing retailers Jaeger and Aquascutum.

Although she had to step back from her roles at Jaegar and Aquascutum earlier this year due to ill health, Earl was an integral part of the turnaround at Jaeger, enabling a sale to Better Capital earlier this year. She had already left by the time Aquascutum collapsed.

With her mix of high fashion skills and her experience at Debenhams, Earl is well placed to handle the challenge of turning around M&S’s clothing offering.

A determined lady, Earl was perplexed by the headlines she made when she was leading Debenhams and became the first chief executive of a leading public company to go on maternity leave. More headlines followed when she returned just six weeks later.

Earl will report to Dixon.