James Moore: Tough task for Bolland to spark Marks

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The Independent Online

Outlook A changing of the guard at the top of the corporate tree, with two tarnished companies that once arguably had claims to represent the best of Britain appointing two proven turnaround men in the hope that their spit and polish will restore their shine.

Of the two (and they are both good appointments) Archie Norman, the new chairman of ITV, looks to have the harder job than Marc Bolland, the chief executive elect at Marks & Spencer.

Mr Norman, who has been rather out of the spotlight for a while as he's dabbled in private equity, is taking charge of a business that been a basket case for years, stumbling from disaster to disaster and facing formidable headwinds. The former Asda boss has no chief executive and the best candidates have been falling over one another to rule themselves out.

And while ITV has enjoyed a moderate revival in recent months – there's a bit more advertising about and shows like The X Factor are good earners – he still faces formidable headwinds, not least finding a way to make the business relevant in the digital age.

But as such, he starts with low expectations. Finding a credible chief executive, hopefully with some TV experience (he has none) would be seen as a good start. After that, steadying the ship, getting the staff onside, maybe persuading the next Government to ease the regulatory straitjacket, and he would be seen as a winner. Finding a buyer willing to pay a half-decent premium and he'd be hailed a hero.

Mr Bolland faces a very different, and arguably more daunting set of challenges. He's leaving a business that, thanks in no small part to his work, has genuine momentum and has been the fastest growing of all the supermarkets over the past few months. Emerging from under Sir Ken Morrison's formidable shadow, he's sharpened the marketing, pepped up the fresh food offering and stuck to his strategic guns to admirable effect.

But while Morrisons is a big name, it is still only the fourth-place player in the supermarket sweep. Marks & Spencer is something else entirely. Despite its struggles of recent years, it remains a high street icon, a company that much of middle-class Britain still sees as part of the furniture. As such, its every move goes under the microscope. This is a company that regularly breaks out from the business pages and on to the front pages. Reinvigorating M&S's food offering Mr Bolland can surely do.

But fashion, and particularly womenswear, are the yardsticks by which M&S is judged. Mr Bolland has no experience of this type of retailing and will not have encountered anything like the opprobrium he's in for if the company makes the slightest mis-step.

In long-term decline when Sir Stuart Rose took over, questions remain about whether the latter has truly turned M&S around despite all his protestations that he now runs "a much stronger business". But the celebrity CEO has always talked a good game and is a media performer par excellence. You would never find Sir Stuart refusing to do interviews unless they were held in an M&S store as Mr Bolland did with Morrisons. You would hardly ever find him refusing any interview.

Mr Bolland has proved he can work with a big personality and while Sir Stuart will be around until the middle of 2011 as a part-time chairman, he will probably (probably) be content to swan around being pictured with Twiggy and Myleene Klass while plotting his next moneymaking venture.

Mr Bolland will have the challenge of reshaping the executive team he has been handed (some of whom will be feeling more than a little miffed at getting passed over, some of whom he may not want) and getting them onside.

Unlike Mr Norman, the expectations of him are sky high. After his success at Morrisons, making M&S a "stronger business" will not do. He will be expected to map out a strategy that makes this company a star on the high street and a star on the stock market. And he will have precious little time to do so. M&S is such an icon that if it looks even slightly vulnerable, there are any number of big beasts who will be ready to pounce. Who knows, maybe even Mr Rose might fancy a pop at taking the company away from the scrutiny of all those pesky shareholders.

Mr Bolland looks to be a great appointment, and investors agree with Morrisons' shares falling on the news of his departure and M&S's rising. But the honeymoon period won't last long, if he even gets one. Out of the two, he has much the harder job.

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