Marks & Spencer chief executive and chairman Sir Stuart Rose was forced to defend a 60% drop in the retailer’s share price at the company’s AGM held in London last week.
Rose acknowledged that the shares, which were at 234p on the day of the AGM, had dropped considerably since the start of the year but said the fall was part of a loss of confidence in the retail sector as a whole.
“The share price at Next and Debenhams has dropped a similar amount. There’s little appetite for customer-facing stocks at the moment and that includes retail,” he said.
The M&S boss also fielded criticism of the chain’s clothing ranges from concerned shareholders, who said the fashionability and sizing was out of kilter with its customer base.
Rose said that M&S’s clothing market share was increasing and that customer returns of womenswear product were now at their lowest level since 1999.
Despite talk of a shareholder revolt prior to the meeting, Rose was re-elected to the board, and the AGM passed without the grilling that had been predicted after his appointment to the dual executive roles of chairman and chief executive.
Non-executive deputy chair-man Sir David Michels said it was in the best interests to retain Rose in a leadership role.
“He is the leading architect of the group’s turnaround and has the right set of skills to complete the job he started. In uncertain economic times, continuity becomes more important.”
Rose added that the company was in a strong position to ride out the economic downturn. He pointed to its increase in market share in clothing, its investment in stores and international expansion as evidence.