Great expectations as Marc Bolland takes reins at M&S

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer's new boss Marc Bolland starts at the helm of the chain today amid great expectations over his plans for the high street giant.

Former Morrisons chief executive Mr Bolland joins M&S on a near-£15 million pay package, taking over the reins from Sir Stuart Rose, who reverted to non-executive chairman until his departure next March.

Mr Bolland arrives as chief executive with a formidable reputation, having led a turnaround of supermarket Morrisons during his tenure there.

He transformed the Bradford-based group into a strong competitor to Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda, with growth that left its bigger rivals trailing in the past year.

The market is hoping the Dutchman can weave some of his magic at M&S, which has struggled in the recession.

Incumbent boss Sir Stuart was leading an overhaul in a bid to halt the sales slide, whilst also sorting out the firm's operations - simplifying suppliers and updating IT systems.

The group's food business, under divisional chief John Dixon, has been making improvements, but the food offering needs to step up efforts to fend off resurgent premium retailer Waitrose, while the clothing arm is also in need of a further boost.

Mr Bolland starts on the front foot, however, after the firm's most recent trading news revealed far better than expected sales growth in the final quarter of M&S's financial year.

M&S reported same store sales up 5.1% in the 13 weeks to March 27 - the second quarter of growth in a row after the group posted a 0.8% hike for the previous three months, which was the first increase in two years.

It said it was on track for 52-week annual profits of between £620 million to £630 million in the period to March 27, up from £604.4 million the previous year.

But this is still a long way below the £1 billion notched up in the year to March 2008 and Mr Bolland will be looked to for a plan to return M&S to its former glory.

He is expected to outline a strategy update for M&S in the autumn when the company presents its half-year results.