Exit Marc Bolland – paid so very well for rearranging the deckchairs at Marks & Spencer

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The Independent Online

Goodbye then, Marc Bolland. The departure of the chief executive from a business with the profile of Marks & Spencer was always going to create a bang, even if that chief has all the charisma of a wet weekend in Rotterdam by contrast with his flashy predecessor Lord Rose. 

The latest sales figures were similarly gloomy. In terms of results, Mr Bolland has gone out with a whimper, albeit a golden one. Hired from Morrisons on a £15m welcome package, he received more than £10m in salary and bonuses and, as at 2015, owned or had options over £5m in shares. 

He departs with the retailer’s food business on a high, which shouldn’t come as a great surprise given that he cut his teeth in the grocery business. But in general merchandise –especially womenswear, by which M&S will always be judged – the story has been one of decline, a narrative exemplified by the latest numbers. 

This worst of it is that Mr Bolland wouldn’t have had to do all that much to look good this time around. Expectations were not high and he found his great rival Next in the unusual position of having dropped the ball. All M&S really needed to do was meet the City’s forecasts. 

Instead it is Next’s results that now look rather good by comparison with those of M&S, and the latter was reduced to following Next’s lead by resorting to excuses. It was the weather, you see.   

Sadly, trailing in behind Next and resorting to excuses have been regular features of Mr Bolland’s term, which also featured the disastrous relaunch of M&S’s website and a ballooning number of highly remunerated positions on the executive committee. 

There are only four survivors from the 13-strong team in place after 2011, Mr Bolland’s first full year in charge. But the heads of HR and communications and the company secretary are support roles. Laura Wade-Gery, the director of “multi channel”, is the only operational survivor. She is currently on extended maternity leave. 

The management committee they remain part of is now 21 in number. New roles elevated to it by Mr Bolland include those of business improvement director and something called Director Plan A. It is apparently to do with sustainability and has helped M&S to sell healthier milk.

But changing the people in the deckchairs and increasing their number hasn’t done much to improve performance, with the exception of the aforementioned food business. 

It’s not that Mr Bolland has been a disaster – M&S still makes money. It is forecast to bring in around  £700m this year, down from the £780m after his first year. Revenues then were £9.74bn; this year they’re expected to clock in at £10.5bn – even if food makes up a much higher proportion of the total than it did then. 

The sad fact, though, is that Mr Bolland’s tenure has been a study in mediocrity. These results come a couple of days after the High Pay Centre’s “fat cat Tuesday”:  the average FTSE 100 chief executive would have earned the same as the annual salary of the average British worker some time in the afternoon of 5 January – just a couple of working days into the year. It encapsulates  what is so wrong about the way the City sets salaries. 

We are continually told that the people at the top of business are superstars and need to be paid as such. There is nothing super about Mr Bolland’s tenure at M&S. He took millions out of the company for just about keeping things ticking over. 

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