It’s taken six months for Stuart Machin to assess the landscape of Marks & Spencer’s food business and decide what personnel changes need to be made.

This week’s announcement of several senior hires, departures and promotions reveals he has reached some interesting conclusions.

The headline news is that George Wright will renew his acquaintance with Machin as commercial director responsible for trading and supply chain – the pair having previously worked together at Coles.

Indeed, there’s a distinctly Antipodean feel to M&S Food’s new leadership team with marketing director for food, Sharry Cramond, also having worked with Machin at Target and Coles.

“It takes courage to bring a senior figure back into the business. It also has some risk”

What interests me about the appointment of Wright is not so much his obvious aptitude for the role based on years of experience working for blue-chip companies like Tesco, Unilever and John Lewis. It’s more the fact that he’s not expected to join M&S until late 2019.

Given that Wright has already left his previous role as Tesco commercial director, it means he will spend the best part of a year tending to his garden.

Such an extended period of gardening leave goes against the grain of what we are seeing in the current jobs’ market. Recent efforts to streamline retail businesses have meant layers of management have disappeared, meaning there is often a significant gap in experience between those with overall responsibility for a function and their second in command.

Clear vision

One consequence of this trend is when a senior executive departs there is often not a number two who can readily step up to take their place. Instead, retailers are increasingly requiring people to work long notice periods while they go out to the market to find a replacement. As a case in point, I recently recruited a retail director who had to work 11 out of 12 months of their notice period.

I find the fact that Wright will not join M&S until 2019 curious. I don’t profess to know the circumstances around his exit – perhaps his defection to a rival left a sour taste at Tesco – but it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in the new year, once the dust has settled, he is allowed to join M&S earlier. After all, it’s hard to see the benefit of Wright sitting at home on full pay for either business.

Another interesting decision by Machin is to rehire April Preston as product development director. Preston previously spent 18 years as head of development for M&S’ food business before leaving in 2014 to join 2 Sisters Food Group. More recently, she has been responsible for transforming Harrods’ food offer as executive head of food innovation.

It takes courage to bring a senior figure back into the business, not least because it suggests M&S made an error in letting Preston go in the first place. It also has some risk – businesses move on and the units and teams the person left may be very different from the ones they rejoin.

Machin will have a clear vision of what he wants to achieve with his new hires. With food becoming increasingly critical to M&S’ overall performance, the pressure will be on him and his team to step up to the plate.

Content provided by Anthony Gregg Partnership.

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