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Marc Bolland: a charmer who can force through change

Urbane, charming and debonair – three words that could as easily be applied to Marc Bolland as to Sir Stuart Rose. And while Bolland may not be a well-known name among fashion retailers and suppliers, he is fêted in grocery circles and in the City for his transformation of Morrisons.

The Dutchman arrived at Morrisons in September 2006 to find himself faced with an almighty mess.

The company, controlled by its autocratic founder Sir Ken Morrison, had taken over Safeway but completely failed with the integration of the business and winning over southern customers, and was forced to make a string of profit warnings.

Bolland set about transforming the retailer, recognising Morrisons’ traditional strengths in value and product provenance, but also being ruthless in modernising it.

Crucial to his strategy was ignoring conventional wisdom. He told this year’s Retail Week Conference that conventional wisdom would require him to ditch Morrisons’ farms and abattoirs and its expensive-to-operate Market Street counters, move into non-food and online, and expand internationally.

But Bolland realised it was its traditional strengths that made Morrisons distinctive, and so rather than stepping back from them he invested and built on them.

Before Morrisons, Bolland spent 20 years with Heineken. While he knows all about life on both sides of the fence and has an innate understanding of brands, on his watch Morrisons has – like all the grocers – negotiated firmly with suppliers.

His experience with the formidable Sir Ken – who stayed on as chairman for a period after Bolland’s appointment – will set him in good stead to work alongside Rose as chairman, who is like a pussycat in comparison. Bolland handled the inevitable challenges with aplomb, going out of his way to publicly lavish praise on Sir Ken Morrison’s legacy while at the same time rapidly getting to grips with the parts of the business that needed to change.

He is also consultative, and Bolland’s board at Morrisons has fused old hands with decades of experience in grocery with new expertise in the areas he is good at, such as marketing. That should be good news for M&S product guru Kate Bostock.

So what can the fashion world expect from Bolland? He is amiable and charming, but he will know the scale of the job that lies ahead. Expect change to come quickly.

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