Marks & Spencer shakes up UK retailing in further bid to revive flagging fortunes

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The Independent Online
MARKS & SPENCER, the troubled stores company, yesterday unveiled detailed plans for a reorganisation of its core UK retail division in a bid to revive the group's flagging performance by responding more effectively to customer demands.

The shake-up, which comes amid growing speculation that the group will fall prey to a takeover bid, is M&S's third major restructuring this year. The changes will create seven retail units - womenswear, menswear, lingerie, childrenswear, home, beauty and food.

Each of these units will be led by a senior executive director who will report to Peter Salsbury, M&S's chief executive. The key role of head of the womenswear unit, which in 1999 accounted for 20 per cent of group sales, has been handed to Barry Morris, currently the executive director responsible for food and homewear.

Jane Lowe, a spokesman for M&S, said: "The new structure has evolved from our desire to adopt a more customer-led management approach." She said the initiative will involve an end to the practice of bulk buying stock as much as a year ahead, which has led to charges of the group being "out of touch" with consumers.

One of the main aims of the restructuring is to make managers more accountable. Each division will have its own profit and loss account and will report individually when the company issues its results.

But Rowan Morgan, an analyst at Teather & Greenwood, said: "This all has the feel of being too little too late."

The company has already carried out two top-level shake-ups this year and has axed six main directors. In March, 400 jobs were cut from the group's head office and 290 staff lost their jobs at store level in May.

Among the appointments announced yesterday was that of Rory Scott, who will leave the group's finance department to become head of lingerie. Jacqueline Paterson, who was recruited from The Boots Company earlier this year, has been named head of beauty retail.

All seven unit heads went through a rigorous selection process overseen by Whitehead Mann, the headhunter.Nigel Whinnet will head menswear retail; Rob Anderson, childrenswear; Keith Evans, home; and Roger Whiteside, food.

M&S yesterday refused to comment on its current trading figures, said to be running at 15 per cent below last year's levels. Ms Lowe said: "The next couple of weeks will be very, very key." She added that the group would release its next update on sales performance in mid-January.

M&S shares yesterday closed 3.25p higher at 277.75p.