Marks & Spencer CEO faces crucial tests

Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:07am EDT
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By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Next month Marks & Spencer (MKS.L: Quote) will come under intense scrutiny as it prepares to reveal new fashion ranges, a strategy update and annual results, events that could shape the future of the British retailer and its chief executive.

Marc Bolland, CEO since May 2010, is under pressure to revive the firm's clothing business, which has been losing market share to firms like Primark (ABF.L: Quote) and Debenhams (DEB.L: Quote).

M&S reported a seventh straight quarterly fall in underlying general merchandise sales on April 11.

The 129-year-old retailer has been the subject of renewed takeover speculation and management also seems to be in some disarray, with the firm recently parting company, without explanation, with its head of lingerie and beauty, Janie Schaffer, just three months after her much-heralded appointment.

New autumn/winter clothing ranges are widely seen as make or break for a new general merchandise team, assembled by Bolland and led by John Dixon, the former boss of food, and Belinda Earl, the former CEO of Debenhams and Jaeger.

Bolland has repeatedly said the new team will not make a major impact on sales until these ranges hit the shops in July.

But he will give an update on strategy and launch the ranges to analysts and business media on May 14, a day before M&S hopes to win over Britain's influential fashion press.

A week later Bolland will present M&S's 2012-13 results, with analysts on average forecasting a 7 percent fall in pretax profit to 658 million pounds ($1 billion), according to a poll carried on the firm's website.   Continued...