Dalton Philips buys time by going cheap as Marc Bolland eases slowly to safety

My Week

business editor

A year ago, the two toughest jobs in retail were held by Dalton Philips at Wm Morrison and Marc Bolland at Marks & Spencer. Fast forward to today and I would say the gruesome twosome are now Mr Philips and Philip Clarke at Tesco.

That begs two questions: how has Mr Philips kept his job – and what has Mr Bolland done to lift himself away from my completely subjective high street trapdoor?

First of all Mr Philips. The Irishman perversely bought himself some time by ripping up his strategy for Morrisons and starting again. Slashing prices and selling off assets he bought only recently, such as pre-school chain Kiddicare, stunned investors so much that chairman Sir Ian Gibson became a lightning rod for criticism for allowing Mr Philips to change direction so sharply.

Taking the battle to ultra-cheap competitors Aldi and Lidl won't be easy. Latest sales figures suggest Morrisons is getting worse before it gets better.

In contrast, Mr Bolland won breathing space thanks to a Christmas trading period that showed signs of life in M&S's all-important clothing business. At times, the pace of the Dutchman's "step-by-step" transformation has seemed glacial. But that is to underplay what has been going on under the bonnet. Souping up the supply chain, opening a shiny new distribution centre at Castle Donington in Leicestershire and taking back control of its web sales from Amazon have taken time – and money.

From hereon in, Mr Bolland must prove that that investment can have the desired effect on trading. M&S will always be beholden to fashionistas who pick apart its latest range. If only its clothing lines could please shoppers as reliably as its food range, which looks to me impervious to the supermarket price war.

Pleasing the City might come easier, at least in the short term. As Mr Bolland's investment phase comes to an end, investors have high hopes of a dividend rise come the annual results on 20 May. And if M&S's profit margins are growing too, all the better.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence