David Parkin on top spot at Marks and Spencer and a non-existent New Year

MARKS and Spencer insists that the decision of chief executive Marc Bolland to “retire” in April is not linked to the fall in clothing sales that was also announced yesterday.

It probably wasn’t.

A man doesn’t leave just because sales of general merchandise (mainly clothes) were down by 5.8% over the three months up to Christmas.

It was more likely the fact that in his six years in the role, since jumping ship from Morrisons, Bolland has failed to turn around the fortunes of a business that was once king of the High Street and the only place we all bought our smalls from.

Yes he can point to the excellent performance of its food sales, which clocked up record numbers during Christmas week.

But while its sales of food are now £5bn and bigger than general merchandise which is just over £4bn, Marks and Sparks needs to get its clothing sales right for its core shoppers who are women aged 60-plus.

But what it has done is impress the fashion writers with suede jackets and other trendy gear aimed at an age group that rarely ventures through its doors.

And then their mums then started shopping elsewhere too.

Dutchman Bolland attracted the ire of Sir Ken Morrison when he abruptly left the Bradford-based supermarket group after three years as CEO to head for M&S’s Baker Street HQ.

Apparently Sir Ken described him as “no retailer”, although that was probably mild compared to the insults the retail veteran reserved for Bolland’s successor Dalton Philips.

I’d heard stories about Bolland being arrogant and aloof while at Morrisons and was interested to see what this marketeer would do at Britain’s best known high street name.

He was following one of the real British retail giants in running Marks and Spencer.

I remember once walking down Briggate in Leeds and seeing a figure elegantly clad in mid-blue suit, standing cross armed in front of Marks and Spencer staring intently at its window displays.

It was the then Sir Stuart, now Lord Rose, executive chairman of M&S, a man for whom the phrase “retail is detail” was probably invented.

I’ve only met Marc Bolland once, in a briefing for journalists after a Morrisons AGM at its Bradford base. It was early on in his tenure and there was a relaxed bonhomie between him and Sir Ken.

It seemed a good partnership: the young, dynamic new chief executive who was prepared to listen and learn from the man who had built the business up from a Bradford market stall into one of Britain’s biggest retail chains.

Perhaps if Bolland had stayed on then Morrisons might not have veered off the road as it did under the haphazard stewardship of Philips, whose move into online deliveries and convenience stores so bamboozled Sir Ken.

We will never know.

What we do know is that Marks and Spencer has opted for one of its own to replace Bolland.

Rather than appointing pricey head hunters to scour the world for a new CEO, the store chain has appointed Steve Rowe, executive director of general merchandise.

Rowe has also run its food operations and has worked for M&S for 27 years, joining at the age of 20.

He got his first job as a Saturday boy when he was 15 at his local M&S in Croydon and his father Joe used to run the store chain’s food operations.

For the Rowe’s Marks and Spencer is a family business.

He sounds like the right man for the job. His mum probably moans to him that she can’t find any clothes she likes at M&S. Bolland’s flirtations with high fashion in clothing collections at Marks always suggested he didn’t really get where the store chain sat in the British public’s psyche.

That only comes if you grow up with the store group, something Rowe can claim, man and boy.

And investors appeared to welcome the news with M&S shares rising 1% on the announcement.

The BBC reports of his appointment made much of his annual salary, which was reported to be just over £800,000 a year.

I actually thought that sounded quite low.

There are plenty of lawyers and accountants poncing about earning that kind of money who don’t have the responsibility for thousands of people’s jobs and aren’t the custodians of a great British brand.


HAPPY New Year!

How many times has someone said that to you in the last week?

I wonder at what point we can stop saying that to people we meet?

Last year someone wished me a Happy New Year in February because it was the first time we’d met in the year.

I actually didn’t have a Happy New Year because I didn’t have a New Year.


I was on a flight to Cape Town on New Year’s Eve and at the moment Big Ben would have struck midnight we were somewhere 37,000 feet above the Sahara Desert, probably in a different time zone.

I’d heard about airlines making a fuss of their passengers flying over Christmas and New Year and expected champagne all round.

But I was flying in economy and I think the flight attendants on British Airways were keen to keep the cabin lights dimmed and the rabble calm at the back of the aeroplane.

I’m sure it was a different kettle of fish upstairs in the first class cabin where I knew Yorkshire lawyers Richard Larking and David Knaggs were.

The pair had used up all their BA Avios points to travel in style to watch all five days of the Cape Town test match between England and South Africa.

And the added bonus of flying in luxury was sitting next to Yorkshire legend Sir Michael Parkinson and his wife Mary.

When I bumped into them on the first day of the Test Richard asked me whether I’d got the glass of champagne he’d sent down to my seat from first class.

Sadly it never arrived but Richard, who has recently joined former Clarion managing partner Mark Burns at MBLS, and David, the ex-regional managing partner of Irwin Mitchell, along with another former Irwin Mitchell man, Andrew Darke and Paul MacIntosh of wealth management firm MacIntosh James & Partners, did buy me a few beers while we enjoyed a bit of friendly banter about our football teams and stories about various characters on the Yorkshire business scene.

Given the price of a pint of beer at Newlands stadium was about £1 and I’ve agreed to buy the drinks when we next meet up in Leeds then this year hasn’t got off to the best start.

But I have just spent a few days in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and one, despite the 12 hour flying time, that you could spend a long weekend in because of the lack of a significant time difference (two hours).

So you see, the trip was all about research and business development.

And I also have significant information on the produce of most of the vineyards in the town of Franschhoek.

Have a great weekend.

And…Happy New Year.

1 thought on “David Parkin on top spot at Marks and Spencer and a non-existent New Year”

  1. Glad you enjoyed Cape Town Parki -an amazingly beautiful place with great weather, a similar time zone and a very favourable exchange rate. It also just happens to be the home of our investor Christo Wiese. You now know why we hold our annual review and budget meeting there and not in Leeds!

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