An urbane Belgian with a tough streak

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The Independent Online

When it comes to presentational skills there are few executives more accomplished than Luc Vandevelde, the dapper Belgian who became M&S chairman in February.

When it comes to presentational skills there are few executives more accomplished than Luc Vandevelde, the dapper Belgian who became M&S chairman in February.

Asked at a press conference yesterday whether he was wearing M&S clothing, Mr Vandevelde immediately sprang to his feet and flung open the jacket of his charcoal-grey checked suit to reveal the St Michael logo.

He then urged his fellow directors on the podium to do the same, and for a moment there they stood, suits agape and grinning sheepishly, looking like a cross between a Reservoir Dogs advert and a GQ fashion shoot.

For a City press conference, this counts as racy stuff.

But apart from a skill for the soundbite and a smart look for the camera, what do we know about this urbane 49-year-oldparachuted in to rescue Britain's best-loved retailer?

On the plus side he is known as tough and decisive. He once said that if you make a mistake in hiring you have to correct it in firing. He also has an international mindset and is fluent in French, English, Dutch, Spanish and German.

On the negative side, Mr Vandevelde had never previously worked in Britain and had never previously worked in clothing, having spent his entire career in food with Kraft Foods and Promodes, the French hypermarket retailer.

What drives him? One factor may be the death of his father in a car accident when the young Vandevelde was just 14. Though not the youngest of six children, the young Luc was the oldest of the second batch of four, with a 10-year gap between him and the older group.

As for his record at M&S, a whirlwind of activity has yet to show meaningful results.

In eight months he has cut the dividend payout, axed several directors, including the chief executive, Peter Salsbury, and overseen a controversial advertising campaign. He has also ordered the roll-out of the new-look M&S stores.

But he has yet to show a recovery in profits or an upward trend in the share price. And in the end it is these factors that will decide his fate, rather than presentational gimmicks.

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