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Steve Rowe and Archie Norman

CEO and chairman, Marks & Spencer

It was another challenging year for Archie Norman and Steve Rowe at Marks & Spencer, but its turnaround programme is arguably beginning to show green shoots.

A 5.5% fall in like-for-like clothing and home sales for the six months to 28 September contributed to a 2.1% fall in total group revenue to £4.86bn. Profit before tax and adjusting items fell 17.1% to £176.5m.

Rowe admitted to poor availability and operational issues. In July, he ousted clothing and home managing director Jill McDonald after the business failed to stock enough of its bestselling range of jeans, as worn by brand ambassador television presenter Holly Willoughby.

Rowe assumed responsibility for the clothing and home division, and took immediate action. The retailer shortened its summer Sale and traded October full price.

It also improved availability: for autumn M&S cut the number of styles by 12% in womenswear and bought deeper in key areas. As a result, sales of women’s cashmere are up 14% on last autumn and denim sales are up 30%. October full-price and planned promotional sales in clothing and home were up 2.7% year on year.

M&S closed 17 full-line stores in the six months to September, and opened a new clothing and home concept in Cornwall in November.

Away from fashion, Rowe and Norman signed a £750m joint venture with Ocado, which will come into effect in September 2020, and result in M&S food being sold online for delivery for the first time.

However, as Rowe says, “one swallow does not make a summer”, so he and Norman must build on the progress if they are to cling on to their place in the Power 100 next year.

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