May 3, 2017
Reading time
3 minutes
Download the article
Click here to print
Text size
aA+ aA-

A walk down memory lane: executives who tried to mend M&S's clothing business

May 3, 2017

The latest executive hire by Marks & Spencer, Jill McDonald from UK car and biking accessory giant Halford, has the fashion industry scratching its head.  She has been tasked with running the retailer's clothing division, which looks risky, considering that she is an executive with no experience in fashion, and that clothing is M&S's most troubled division.

Like many department stores, the British retailer is losing ground in clothing to fast fashion and e-commerce.

It could prove to be an inspired move, a masterstroke. Or it could be just the latest of many attempts to 'fix' the firm's fashion business.

M&S was once a go-to destination on the British high street for clothes, selling everything from school uniforms to underwear and first interview suits. And even today it still sells a lot of clothes to a lot of people.

But the retailer has been squeezed in recent years by the arrival of fast, cheap fashion at one end of the market and more affordable luxury at the other, meaning the level of sales and profits it used to enjoy from fashion have proved elusive and it has seemed to be in almost-permanent turnaround mode for almost two decades.

In the past few years, it has invested heavily to improve its supply chain logistics, products, stores and website, helping it to enjoy a strong Christmas in 2016. But the question begs: is the writing on the wall and are the days gone by when a giant chain like M&S could make huge profits from clothing?

Following is a list of people who have sought to turn around M&S's clothing and homewares business over the past decade or so and how they got on.

Kate Bostock (March 10, 2008)

- Named executive director of clothing as part of an overhaul of the company's management

- Had been with M&S for about four years after previously holding senior roles at fashion retailer Next and the George clothing division at Asda.

- Left in 2012 as M&S' general merchandise division posted its biggest quarterly sales drop for 3-1/2 years partly due to stock management issues that left its stores short of best selling womenswear lines

- Division's annual revenue at beginning and end of the tenure: 4.6 billion pounds and 4.2 billion pounds respectively

Belinda Earl (September 1, 2012)

- Named Style Director in a newly-created part-time role, reporting to the head of general merchandise

- Previously ran retailers Debenhams, Aquascutum and Jaeger

- M&S has since enjoyed some rave reviews for specific items such as a 70s style suede skirt and a pink coat. She remains in the role.

John Dixon (Oct 1, 2012)

- Named executive director, general merchandise

- A company veteran of 26 years and previously executive director, food.

- After helping pioneer M&S's successful Dine-in-for-10 pounds food line, Dixon was moved to revive growth at the company's merchandise business. He left suddenly in 2015 and took up a role in Australia.

- Division's annual revenue at beginning and end of the tenure: 4.2 billion pounds and 4 billion pounds respectively

Steve Rowe (July 16, 2015)

- Appointed executive director, general merchandise

- Had also worked with M&S for over 26 years and he too was previously executive director of food

- During his tenure, M&S' clothing division reported an increase in quarterly sales for the first time in nearly two years at the end of 2016, helping the 133-year-old company to soundly beat forecasts for Christmas trading. Rowe warned however that there was a lot more to do

- He relinquished the role to McDonald on Wednesday

- Division's annual revenue at beginning and end of the tenure: 4 billion pounds and 3.9 billion pounds respectively, with the division now renamed Clothing and Home

With additional reporting by Fashion Network

© Thomson Reuters 2022 All rights reserved.