M&S chief Vandevelde urged to curb outside interests

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Luc Vandevelde, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, is coming under pressure to devote more time to trying to turn around the high street retailer, which looks set to deliver another set of dire sales figures this week.

Luc Vandevelde, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, is coming under pressure to devote more time to trying to turn around the high street retailer, which looks set to deliver another set of dire sales figures this week.

With analysts speculating that M&S has managed only minimal growth in clothing and other merchandise in the past four months, resentment among City investors over Mr Vandevelde's growing portfolio of other business interests spilled into the public arena over the weekend.

Robert Talbut, the chief investment officer at Isis Asset Management, was reported as saying: "There is growing concern that Luc Vandevelde's attention is straying, just when M&S needs a strong chairman to be on top of things."

Investors have complained that Mr Vandevelde is giving too much of his time to Change Capital Partners, the private equity firm which specialises in retail acquisitions, where he is managing director. He was also recently appointed non-executive director at Carrefour, the French supermarket chain.

Mr Vandevelde was hired by M&S in 2000 to try to halt the dramatic decline in its fortunes and was widely credited with luring its core Middle England following back into its shops in 2001 and 2002. But the company has again hit the rocks in the past 18 months. Investors are concerned that it has failed to address fundamental problems, including with its clothing lines.

M&S shares were among the worst performers in the FTSE 100 last week as speculation mounted that the company will admit it needs a major overhaul. Tony Shiret, an analyst at CSFB, raised concerns that M&S could be about to embark on a major investment programme in its stores, which could lead to a fall in its share of the market, at least in the short term.

There has been a wide variety of speculation about what Roger Holmes, the company's embattled chief executive, might be planning for M&S. Ideas include making some outlets more like department stores by doing away with food and giving more prominence to brand offshoots such as Per Una and Blue Harbour.

Vittorio Radice, the former Selfridges chief executive who has been charged with redesigning the group's 300 stores, is thought to be planning to ditch M&S's trademark shade of green, which appears on its bags and in its shops. The company has been experimenting with a range of new colours, including dark green and pink, in its cutting edge outlet in Speke, outside Liverpool.

While it is likely that M&S's shares will be hit if it confirms the City's worst fears about current trading this week, it is possible the situation will provide an opportunity for Mr Holmes to ditch more M&S traditions which he believes are hampering the company. He has already announced the loss of 1,000 jobs by the end of next year from the group's London head office and divisional centres.

He has also endorsed the ambitious new M&S Homestore in Newcastle, which was masterminded by Mr Radice and is M&S's first serious attempt to cast off its frumpy image in favour of a more modern one which might attract younger shoppers.

Observers believe M&S's management is planning yet more investment, including the launch of more stand-alone stores on top of the Homestore and Simply Food outlets. Next on the agenda could be stores selling only the Per Una Clothing line, developed with the designer George Davies, who built up clothing chains at Next and Asda.

Comments