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Rowe reshuffle sees M&S womenswear chief exit

Marks & Spencer’s womenswear director Frances Russell has left the business less than a month after general merchandise boss John Dixon’s departure.

Russell’s exit is the first change to be made under Dixon’s replacement Steve Rowe, who was formerly executive director food and moved across to his new role on July 17.

Drapers understands Rowe circulated an internal memo on today (August 11) explaining he believed it would be beneficial to exploit the synergies between the womenswear, lingerie and beauty categories and that he wanted to tighten up the management structure following a review. Russell left the business as a result.

The business, which has been struggling to rebuild its falling clothing sales, has extended the remit of director of lingerie and beauty Jo Jenkins’ role to include womenswear.

Jenkins started her career at M&S on the junior management training programme and held various retail and buying roles from 1987 to 1997. She moved to rival Next and spent 15 years in sourcing and buying roles, most latterly as product director for womenswear, before returning to M&S in 2013 as director of lingerie and beauty.

There are now three trading directors reporting into Rowe: Jenkins, for womenswear, lingerie and beauty; Scott Fyfe, director of menswear; and Stephanie Chen, director of home and kidswear.

Belinda Earl, who works as style director for half the week, and sourcing directors Mark and Neal Lindsay also report directly to Rowe.

“Belinda provides continuity but at the autumn 15 preview earlier this year it was John [Dixon] and Frances presenting the latest collection and now they’re both gone,” said independent retail analyst Nick Bubb. “Meanwhile the rest of the retail world doesn’t stand still and the likes of Primark and H&M are continuing apace.”

Russell joined M&S in 2008 from Arcadia, where she was brand director of Burton and Evans. She was promoted from lingerie and beauty to director of womenswear in 2012.

Retail consultant Richard Hyman said her departure would add to the sense of uncertainty in M&S’s management structure: “Frances is a seasoned retailer with a very good track record so her departure will be disruptive but there is enormous disruption at M&S anyway with the shift in their supply chain.”

Maureen Hinton, global research director at Conlumino, said the move showed Rowe is not afraid to ring the changes and that more upheaval could follow: “It seems odd to combine those three categories and womenswear is such a big category for M&S. It might be an indication that womenswear is performing badly and to show he has taken action before they next report.”

Like-for-like sales in its general merchandise category fell by 0.4% in the 13 weeks to June 27 following a return to growth in the previous 13-week period which marked an end to 14 consecutive quarters in decline.

The company holds a 10% market share for womenswear in the UK, down from 11.7% in 2010, while in lingerie its market share is 21.1%, down from 22.1% in 2010, according to the latest figures from Verdict.


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