Marks & Spencer has launched a transformation programme called 2020 – Doing the right thing, to be headed by finance director Ian Dyson.

The initiative, designed to “deliver a step change” in how Marks & Spencer services customer needs and operates, came as the retailer posted a fall in adjusted preliminary pre-tax profits to £704.4m from £1bn and cut its dividend.

Dyson’s leadership of the change programme may indicate that he is emerging as the internal front-runner to succeed executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose, who will stand down by July 2011.

Dyson will chair a 2020 “executive change team” comprising food supremo John Dixon, clothing boss Kate Bostock – who now also assumes responsibility for home as all general merchandise businesses are brought together, and HR chief Tanith Dodge. International director Carl leaver is to leave the business “by mutual agreement”.

The main objectives of the 2020 programme will be to accelerate M&S’s multichannel operations, “focusing on the customer whichever channel they want to use”, driving international operations and reinvigorating “brand communication with customers”.

Marks & Spencer’s sales rose 0.4 per cent over the year to reach £9.1 bn. UK sales fell 1.7 per cent but international turnover climbed by 25.9 per cent.

UKlike-for-likes fell 5.9 per cent – down 6.9 per cent in general merchandise and five per cent in food.

Rose said: “During the year we acted decisively to meet the challenges of the economic downturn, responding quickly to the changing needs of our customers, managing costs tightly and protecting our balance sheet. We sharpened our values without compromising on quality.”

He said that trading in the first seven weeks of the new yearn has been “broadly in line” with fourth quarter trends.