Marc Bolland, the newly named successor to Sir Stuart Rose as chief executive of Marks & Spencer, will not be hampered by lack of clothing experience, say fashion industry insiders.
However, his relationship with Marks & Spencer clothing boss Kate Bostock and fashion suppliers will be crucial when he joins next year from supermarket chain Morrisons.
Although Bolland’s background is in fast moving consumer goods, his marketing and brand insight is likely to be transferable into fashion and complement the strengths of Marks & Spencer’s clothing team and offer.
Rose, who will step down as chief executive next year but remain as executive chairman, was confident in Bolland’s abilities. He said: “He’s got the youth, energy and, most importantly, the desire to do it. I think you will see original thinking.”
Andrew Skinner, trading director at M&S sub-brand Per Una, said: “I’m delighted with the news. Marc is a strong leader and I’m confident he’ll be a great chief executive.
“We’ve got a very strong clothing team and we’ll carry on doing what we’ve been doing. Kate [Bostock] leads the clothing team and she’s fantastic at what she does. I don’t see why this would change her role.
“The latest figures have shown an improvement so we’re obviously on the right track.”
Mathew Dixon, partner at recruitment firm Hudson Walker, said Bolland’s relationship with Bostock would be “crucial” to M&S’s long-term success. He said the appointment was “brave” but “not illogical” and that Bolland’s success in turning around Morrisons spoke for itself.
He said: “Stuart Rose understands and has empowered design within M&S and Bolland’s lack of fashion experience will place a harsh spotlight on Kate Bostock. He will rely heavily on her to get the fashion offer right and gain the confidence of the British public from the start.”
Touker Suleyman, owner of shirt retailer Hawes & Curtis and womenswear brand Ghost, said: “Marc will be a breath of fresh air, which is what M&S needs. Stuart leaves him with a good management team in place and the clothing team has started to get things together. There isn’t much fat to trim out of the supply chain.”
A source close to M&S said: “He will be very clear on the people who can lead the company forward and Kate Bostock is certainly vital in that. She’s already director of clothing so I’m not sure how much larger her role can get, but she’ll be key to his success and I’m confident she’ll stay”.
Sue Shipley, head of retail practice at headhunter Odgers Berndtson, said: “Marc Bolland is a marketeer, he will bring a new focus. He’ll be good at getting to grips with thinking about the customers and what is M&S’s positioning. He will create a good team spirit and he deals in common sense.”
Gifi Fields, founder of high street supplier Coppernob, said: “Hats off to Stuart Rose, I think he has got the right man for the job. Bolland’s assets are not Stuart’s strong points. Stuart is reactive. He can mend something which is broken but cannot take it to the next level.”
However, one supplier said: “M&S needs a strong leader to take over from Stuart and the right person to run the business. Do they opt for a chief executive that has experience in clothing and a good knowledge of product? Or do they go for the more corporate guy with City experience? They’ve gone for the latter. The only man who could have done it on the product side was [Next and Per Una founder] George Davies. As a supplier it will be interesting to see what changes come about as a result of this.”
And Tesco clothing boss Terry Green said: “I’m surprised at the appointment as he doesn’t have any clothing experience. He will have to rely on the people there already to unravel what’s gone wrong in clothing.”
Rose said internal candidates for the role, who included Bostock, “are all excited” about Bolland’s appointment. “I can genuinely say that,” said Rose.
Maureen Hinton, lead analyst at retail research firm Verdict, said that any ramifications from Bolland’s appointment would not be felt until at least a year into his tenure.
She said: “He’ll have Stuart there for a year so I don’t think we’ll see a huge change in strategy to begin with, so I think there’ll be a smooth transition.”
Roller coaster ride of M&S’s Rose years
May 2004 Rose joins Marks & Spencer to defend it against Sir Philip Green’s takeover bid. Prior to that, Rose was chief executive of Arcadia. Within three weeks of joining M&S, Rose overhauls the top team and commits to lowering opening price points to get its value proposition right.
October 2004 Kate Bostock joins from George at Asda where she was product director.
September 2004 Creative director Yasmin Yusuf resigns after three years at the chain.
October 2004 M&S buys Per Una for £125m from George Davies.
December 2005 M&S signs model Twiggy to front its first dedicated womenswear TV campaign.
January 2006 The Look Behind the Label campaign is launched to push M&S’s ethical credentials.
March 2006 M&S asks suppliers for discounts to help save about £40m in buying costs and fund its advertising.
July 2006 M&S puts George Davies’s daughters in charge of Per Una ahead of their father’s appointment as chairman.
March 2008 Rose announces plans to leave M&S in 2011, while Kate Bostock is appointed to the board.
January 2008 M&S reports its worst Christmas for three years. Rose warns that “these are the toughest high street conditions I’ve seen in a decade”.
May 2008 Rose says he wants to drive better- and best-priced product and lowers opening price points.
November 2008 Davies quits M&S.
November 2009 M&S posts flat interim profits of £306.7m.