Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland has stressed the idea that M&S is on a journey as he has fought off criticism of ongoing performance.

Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland has long been keen to stress the idea that the retailer is on a journey as he has fought off criticism of ongoing performance. As he revealed that full-year pre-tax profit fell 3.9% this week, he maintained the company was now moving from a phase of “transformation” to “delivery”.

“The key question remains whether M&S can deliver on its own narrative”

Chris Brook-Carter, Editor-in-chief

Bolland’s tenure has been characterised by investments in infrastructure, IT, logistics, stores, overseas expansion and new digital platforms. And he argues that the last three years at the helm have been spent making the necessary transformations to bring M&S’s infrastructure up to the levels needed to go toe-to-toe with rivals.

With those building blocks in place, the retailer, he said this week, is now “focused on delivery”.

There are signs that the strategy is beginning to bear fruit. The improving trend in clothing sales in the fourth quarter has continued in-store in the new financial year, and it is forecast that general merchandise gross margins are heading upwards.

But the key question remains whether M&S can deliver on its own narrative, or whether the pressures of the changing high street will once again mean it over-promises and under-delivers.

The journey remains far from smooth, as the news that M&S is to abandon plans for a £200m distribution centre at the London Gateway port demonstrates. Meanwhile, the fact that general merchandise performance is being held back by the launch of M&S’s new website, which it said would take four to six months to “settle in”, will do little to build confidence in its multichannel future.

Against that backdrop, it will remain hard to convince critics that M&S has indeed entered a brighter phase of its history until it begins to perform on a sustained basis.

Pennycook’s balancing act

In voting for reform, the Co-op’s members took the only option open to them to ensure the mutual’s future.

Nevertheless, the unanimous backing is a testament to the leadership of interim boss Richard Pennycook, who was appointed in challenging circumstances in March.

The weekend’s outcome reflects his ability to balance the honesty needed to articulate the harsh reality of the Co-op’s circumstances with the sensitivities of the organisation’s unique culture and history.