Simon English: M&S glory days in the past? Bolland has little time to prove otherwise
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Outlook How long has Marc Bolland got? About a year, seems the consensus, so that he can at least give undeniable evidence that his Marks & Spencer turnaround is actually turning.
Perhaps he has even less than that. And perhaps it is time for all of us to stop describing Marks as a bellwether. These days, its results are only telling us how it itself is doing. Others have escaped the supposed crisis on the high street.
Mr Bolland is, of course, absurdly overpaid but that's not really his fault. If his experiment does fail, you can be sure that the M&S board will conclude that the next move is to recruit an even more expensive outsider, rather than someone cheaper and internal.
Can Mr Bolland do it? He is trying to bring the supply chain up to date, and there has never been any doubt about his knowledge of the food market (women's clothes, not so much).
Some sympathy goes his way for the growing feeling that his predecessor may not have done him too many favours.
Sir Stuart Rose was a brilliant retailer, most agree, but it also begins to look as if he left to the next man the full-on overhaul of the business that was required.
He got profits up to £1bn, one year anyway, by running the business like a trader would. He maximised profits in the short term, deciding that the long term was someone else's problem.
Even if that version of events is at all accurate – Sir Stuart would dispute it – it's long past the time when Mr Bolland could realistically blame his predecessor for anything.
About a year then – after which he either gets lauded as a retail genius or moves on, holding an utterly gigantic cheque as reward for his failure.
Perhaps the truth is that M&S is yesterday's news, a business in perpetual decline. It is never going to regain past glories. And perhaps those glories mostly exist in memory only. It has been a business in transition for at least 15 years.
That's like a faded football club pretending that its lowly league position is a blip, and that it will soon be challenging for the title again. The dwindling number of fans know different.
More than most retailers, the gap between M&S's glossy, appealing ads and the reality of what it is like in many of the stores is huge.
The retailer's huge advantage is that millions of people still want to like it. It doesn't make it easy.
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