The pressure on French Connection’s chairman and chief executive Stephen Marks grew this week after the business posted its fifth consecutive year of losses.
Marks tried to put a positive spin on the figures, pointing out that there had been a “noticeable improvement” in the second half. He also said reaction to this season’s collections had been “very strong so far”. But French Connection has been in its current slump for quite a while now, and these figures did little to inspire confidence in its turnaround plans.
Perhaps the time has finally come, then, to bring some fresh leadership into the business. Marks, who founded French Connection in the early 1970s, is thought to be unwilling to relinquish his dual role as chairman and chief executive. Yet the UK Corporate Governance Code makes it clear that there should be a clear division of responsibilities at the head of the company between the running of the board and the day-to-day business.
“No one individual should have unfettered powers of decision,” the code states.
There’s no doubt that Marks has been a strong leader for the business in the past, albeit with a few bumps along the road. But over recent years, French Connection has lost its way. Its product is not as exciting as it once was, and it is no longer clear who it is targeting. The brand’s most recent heyday was in the 1990s, with the much-loved FCUK range. But that is dated now, and an ill-advised attempt to revive the FCUK logo last year is probably best forgotten.
More recently, French Connection has jumped on the activewear bandwagon, but at its price point it is competing head to head with more creative, of-the-moment brands such as Lululemon. Meanwhile, across its main clothing collections, it is competing with Reiss, Jigsaw and others at the upmarket end of the high street. Both of those rivals have a much clearer brand handwriting.
With support from a new chief executive, who could bring a fresh pair of eyes, and challenge the status quo of how the business operates, Marks could begin to revive this once fun and inviting brand.