High street giant Marks & Spencer said chief executive Marc Bolland will retire in April after six years at the helm as it posted a “disappointing” Christmas performance from its clothing division.
Bolland will be replaced by the head of the chain’s general merchandise business, Steve Rowe, who has worked at M&S for more than 25 years.
Details of the change at the top came as M&S revealed like-for-like sales in its general merchandise arm, which includes clothing, slumped by 5.8 per cent in the 13 weeks to 26 December. The weak figures were blamed on unusually mild weather and poor stock availability.
M&S chairman Robert Swannell said: “Over the last six years Marc Bolland has led Marks & Spencer through a period of necessary change. Over this time, the company has made significant investment in enhanced infrastructure and capabilities.
“I am delighted that, after the most rigorous succession planning, Marc will be succeeded by Steve Rowe. Steve has a deep knowledge of Marks & Spencer and a proven track record of delivering results in key parts of the business.”
Bolland, who will hand over to Rowe at the end of the retailer’s financial year on 2 April, said: “I have worked closely with Steve for six years and I am convinced that he will be a great leader for Marks & Spencer.
“I would like to thank all my colleagues and the board at Marks & Spencer for being so supportive of the drive to prepare M&S for the future. I am proud to leave such a large group of talent behind in the business.”
M&S said it had enjoyed its best ever Christmas for food sales, which jumped 17 per cent in the key Christmas week.
However, it faced “challenging” trading conditions at its general merchandise arm. “Unseasonal weather impacted sales across the clothing sector and resulted in unprecedented levels of promotional activity in the market, starting from Black Friday and intensifying through December,” the firm said.
“We acknowledge there is more to do to address the disappointing general merchandise sales, and the new team are focused on the three key priorities of availability, ranging and design.”
Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: “The general merchandise performance was not just affected by exogenous factors such as the unseasonably warm weather, but also self-inflicted shortfalls such as a lack of availability and the decision not to participate in the heavy discounting of competitors in the period.
“It is of little surprise, therefore, that volumes retreated, although the flip side has been continued strength in its gross margins.”