M&S veteran eyes top job as takes on clothing role

Fri Jul 17, 2015 1:22pm EDT
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By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Steve Rowe's switch from running Marks & Spencer's MKS.L food business to heading its general merchandise arm could make or break his chances of succeeding Marc Bolland as chief executive, arguably the most prestigious job in British retail.

Rowe has led the upmarket food division for three years, delivering 23 straight quarters of underlying sales growth and an outperformance of the wider industry, helping M&S post a first rise in profit in four years in 2014-15.

However his shift to general merchandise - the 131-year-old firm's flagship division, accounting for about two-thirds of profit - represents a significant step up. He faces the challenge of delivering the sustained rise in sales, along with profit margin gains, that will convince investors the M&S recovery is on track.

The opportunity came his way when Britain's biggest clothing retailer announced on Thursday that John Dixon - who had been tipped as a possible successor to Bolland - had quit as executive director of general merchandise, a position he has held since 2012, to become a CEO elsewhere.

Rowe, who has been at M&S for more than 26 of his 47 years, and whose father Joe was an executive director until 2000, has made no secret of his desire for the top job, telling Reuters last year he would love to be CEO.

If he can replicate his food success in his new division, which spans clothing, shoes and homeware, he may get his chance and outmaneuver the claims to Bolland's job of Laura Wade-Gery, executive director multi-channel, and finance chief Helen Weir.

EXPERTS DIVIDED   Continued...

A sign is displayed at a Marks and Spencer store in central London, Britain May 20, 2015.   REUTERS/Neil Hall