The Steve Rowe revolution at Marks & Spencer continues with the news that Melanie Smith has been hired as the retailer’s director of strategy.

Smith may lack the profile within the retail sector of recent newcomers Archie Norman and Jill McDonald but her appointment is arguably just as significant.

Although her job spec has not yet been revealed, the onus on any strategy director is to look beyond the next quarter, and indeed the next year, to understand how the business should look in five or even 10 years’ time.

These type of director-level roles – just as commonly described as business transformation, consumer insight or digital – form a large part of our assignments and are all about transitioning a business from one state to another.

Cerebral people

The majority of retailers are trying to reposition themselves from ‘bricks’ to ‘clicks’ businesses in line with changing consumer habits.

Driving this change are cerebral people such as Smith whose task is to understand how the retail environment will change in the years ahead, what consumers will want from retail brands, and what their own customers will look like.

“There’s no reason the retailer cannot become the force of old – just don’t expect it to happen overnight”

This is particularly relevant to M&S, which has faced accusations of being slower to respond to the shift to online than some competitors.

If Smith can relieve some of the burden on Steve Rowe and work effectively with the likes of McDonald, Norman and M&S.com boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne to accelerate M&S’s recovery, there’s no reason the retailer cannot become the force of old – just don’t expect it to happen overnight.

Impressive CV

Smith, who is currently managing director of boutique consumer goods advisory and investment boutique Smith Hebert, is an interesting choice for the newly created strategy role and may turn out to be another clever hire by Rowe.

Her CV is impressive and diverse with more than a decade at McKinsey to her name in addition to senior roles at Talk Talk and Bupa.

The M&S leadership team suddenly has a very fresh look to it.

“The sense is that Rowe is thinking about the bigger picture with his recent senior hires”

While there remains a core of people with strong and specific skillsets within the business, the sense is that Rowe is thinking about the bigger picture with his recent senior hires.

Like McDonald, Smith comes from a largely non-fashion background. This is instructive since it implies that Rowe believes the challenges facing M&S’s fashion division extend beyond the products themselves.

And while food is ticking along nicely there is surely more that M&S can do to leverage food’s success across the wider business.

It may take years to determine whether Smith has been a success in her role – M&S is a juggernaut that will not turn quickly. But the intent is clear for all to see. Now comes the bigger challenge of delivery.

NameRoleCompany exitingCompany joiningRole
Jill McDonald Chief executive Halfords Marks & Spencer Managing director for clothing, home and beauty
Archie Norman     Marks & Spencer Chairman
Judy Collinson Senior vice president of merchandising for the US Christian Dior Burberry Chief merchandising officer
Paul Price Chief merchandising officer Burberry    
Angela Morrison Chief information officer Direct Line Group Debenhams Technology and supply chain director
Sally Hyndman Group HR director Dixons Carphone Debenhams HR director
Phil Jordan Global chief information officer Telefonica Sainsbury’s Group chief information officer
James Williams Online trading and digital marketing director Jigsaw Phase Eight Director of marketing and online trading
Richard Smothers Chief financial officer Mothercare    
Alex Williamson Chief executive Goodwood Estate – Goodwood Group House of Fraser Chief executive
Chris Dee Chief executive Booths    
Patrice Louvet Group president of global beauty Procter & Gamble Ralph Lauren President and chief executive
Andy Harding     Mothercare Interim chief customer officer
Nigel Keen Property director Waitrose    
David Haydon Director of merchandise, marketing, supply chain, store development and ecommerce Officeworks Bunnings UK and Ireland Trading and commercial manager for Homebase
Richard Reed Vice president for international customer development Reckitt Benckiser Boots Trading director for the UK and Republic of Ireland
Dan Rubel Group strategy and communications director Shop Direct RAC Unannounced
Nicky Line     Feather & Black Creative and product director
Melanie Smith     Marks & Spencer Strategy director
Rob Silsbury Senior director, marketing and ecommerce Ralph Lauren Dune Marketing and ecommerce director

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Content provided by Anthony Gregg Partnership.

You can call Tony Gregg on 01564 796830 or email him at tony@anthonygregg.com.

Founded in 2003 and located in central London, The Anthony Gregg Partnership specialises in the consumer search market space.