New M&S boss Steve Rowe will continue to oversee its general merchandise business as he bids to improve performance at the crucial division.

Clothing bosses will report directly to Rowe, who formally succeeded Marc Bolland at the top as chief executive of Marks & Spencer on Saturday and was previously general merchandise director.

Rowe told Retail Week: “I’m going to be overseeing general merchandise for the foreseeable future.”

His hands-on approach is likely to please investors, who have been disappointed by M&S’s inability to improve its fashion performance in recent years.

Rowe said he intends to “put the customer at the heart of the business”.

“If you do the right thing for the customer it will work out in the right way,” he maintained.

By having apparel chiefs report directly to him, he has signalled his recognition of the category’s importance and his determination to improve the situation.

M&S updates on Thursday, when City analysts expect general merchandise like-for-like sales to be down by between 3% and 4%.

Rowe is not expected to reveal his strategy until the retailer’s prelims in May, but his appointment has been welcomed by investors who hope he can turn fashion around.

Broker Peel Hunt upgraded M&S from hold to buy this morning and said: “Thankfully we believe that new CEO Steve Rowe brings with him an appetite for change.”

The broker observed: “He has not procrastinated in the past and took swift action in streamlining the general merchandise management team last year.”

This morning Rowe told M&S colleagues: “I am very proud and privileged to be leading M&S – a business that has been built on the support and loyalty of its customers. Without our customers, we don’t have a business, so you’re going to hear me talk about customers a lot. We not only need to listen to them, we need to learn, and adapt.

”One of the things that I have learnt during my time at M&S is that we have a tendency to over-complicate things. I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. Doing things simply means we serve customers better, manage costs, and work more efficiently.

”I wholeheartedly believe in the growth of this business. We need to work together and work smarter in order to do it, but I know that it’s achievable and that we can achieve it in a profitable way for our shareholders.”