David Prosser: The M&S strategic review that wasn't


Outlook Pity the modern chief executive. Most of us, on beginning a new job, take some time to settle in and then make any changes needed without fanfare. That's not good enough for the modern CEO: he or she has to launch a strategic review on day one at the company and, just a few months later, present a vision for its future that will transform its prospects for the better (regardless of whether or not those prospects were decent enough in the first place).

To his credit, Marc Bolland, the new broom at Marks & Spencer, has been letting it be known for months now that his strategic review would be "evolution not revolution", reflecting the fact that while there are no doubt things the retailer could improve upon, he is hardly taking over some sort of high street basket case.

Still, it was quite some achievement for Mr Bolland to take 90 minutes yesterday to present his conclusions. They basically boil down to three pledges: to open more stores, more quickly, and to spruce them all up; to sharpen up the M&S portfolio of brands; and to return to some of the international markets from which the retailer left with its tail between its legs a decade or so ago.

Very sensible, too. M&S does need to open more stores and soup up its online trade, part of the expansion. A sharper focus on the premium value of the M&S brand is also attractive: it has never been clear what the retailer was hoping to achieve by putting other brands on its food shelves. As for international expansion, well who doesn't think that selling more products in the emerging economies of the world, where disposable incomes are improving, is a good idea?

This hardly amounts to a strategic review, however. It's a fine-tuning of the existing business model, with a particular focus on marketing, for which Mr Bolland is renowned. The only significant risk is the return to the international marketplace – M&S's track record in China so far is mixed.

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