M&S CEO to exit in May, retailer names new leadership duo in surprise move
After a succession of high-profile CEOs at M&S in the past two decades, the one who finally set the firm’s turnaround on the right path is set to leave the business in late May.
Steve Rowe has been with M&S for almost 40 years and just how big a gap he’ll leave can be seen from the fact that his replacement will actually be two co-CEOs.
Clothing & home chief Katie Bickerstaffe and head of the firm’s food business Stuart Machin will share the top job but Machin will be in the day to day leadership role. Bickerstaffe will focus on furthering the firm’s digital ambitions. Meanwhile finance director Eoin Tonge will take on an enhanced role overseeing strategy.
The retailer emphasised that the changes are part of a planned succession process. Bickerstaffe and Machin are well used to working together and are currently co-COOs.
Chairman Archie Norman said the aim is that they and Tonge “will fly in formation. This is a big and complex company that needs that [broad leadership]. While we have made progress, we haven’t fixed everything.”
M&S shares dipped marginally on Thursday afternoon, although the fall didn’t even reach 1% so it suggests investors are neither negative nor positive on the changes that have been announced.
Bickerstaffe and Tonge had both been seen as contenders for the top job when Rowe eventually decided to step down and the new structure — overseen by Archie Norman — could either be an inspired one or a risky strategy.
Rowe, as sole CEO, has been a decisive leader, closing stores, launching and buying brands and driving investment in digital and leading the giant investment in Ocado.
He will officially step down as CEO after the annual results are released on May 25, but his full-time employment will continue until July. After that, he’ll be an adviser to the firm for up to 12 months.
He joined the retailer straight from school, and worked his way up to take the top job six years ago. Since then, he’s set the firm on a growth trajectory and overseen its expansion into selling third-party brands. He’s also been in charge while it launched hugely successful own brands — such as major success story Goodmove — and has led it as it made strategic acquisitions like Jaeger and The Sports Edit (the latter only this week).
Norman said: “The appointments we are making today bring together a very strong leadership team to take the business into the next stage of its transformation. Steve has been a magnificent servant of M&S, putting his heart and soul into the job. Coming from the shop floor to lead the business, he epitomises our values and has lived and breathed M&S for so many years. He is living proof of the opportunities M&S provides for great people to succeed. The M&S he took over was in parlous shape and throughout my tenure he has been fearless in grasping the nettles and facing into the challenges and has delivered massive progress.”
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