Supermarket boss to take helm at M&S

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer today named the highly-regarded boss of supermarket chain Morrisons as its new chief executive.

Marc Bolland succeeds M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose who will continue at the firm as part-time chairman.

The 50-year-old Dutchman joined Morrisons in 2006 as chief executive and has transformed the once-ailing chain into the fastest growing of the big four grocers.

He will take up his position in the new year at a time and on terms to be confirmed.

His strong reputation in the City was highlighted by the share prices of the two firms following today's announcement, with M&S up 6 per cent and Morrisons down 4 per cent.

M&S's succession plans have been the subject of speculation since Sir Stuart stated his intention to leave the company by July 2011 at the latest.

The relationship between M&S and its shareholders was already under strain due to Sir Stuart's appointment as executive chairman - combining two roles in breach of corporate best practice - more than a year ago.

Senior managers including clothing head Kate Bostock, financial director Ian Dyson and food division chief John Dixon were all seen as potential candidates for the job of chief executive.

The company's first investor day in a decade last month was billed in the City as a "beauty parade" for the internal candidates.

But in the end it was Mr Bolland's achievements at Morrisons which caught the eye of the M&S board.

Mr Bolland was previously chief operating officer at Heineken, based in the Netherlands. He held a number of senior roles at Heineken over the last 20 years, including responsibility for brand and marketing strategies.

Sir Stuart said: "I am delighted that Marc is to be M&S's next chief executive. He brings a wealth of consumer marketing experience and has made a great success of his time at Morrisons."

Mr Bolland said: "M&S is one of the world's great brands and I am very pleased to be given the opportunity to lead the company forward at this exciting stage. I am greatly looking forward to working closely with Stuart and the M&S team."

Morrisons, which has about 400 stores and 124,000 staff, has outperformed the supermarket sector in recent months, with till roll growth of 8.5% in the 12 weeks to November 1, according to TNS Worldpanel figures.

The chain recently stepped up its expansion with the acquisition of stores from the Co-operative Group following the latter's takeover of Somerfield.

As part of Mr Bolland's turnaround strategy, Morrisons rebranded its stores, launched an advertising campaign featuring celebrities Denise Van Outen and Richard Hammond and staged promotions such as Sunday lunch for four for £4.

The company's problems stemmed from its takeover of Safeway in 2004, but in March Morrisons announced a 7% hike in full-year profits to £655 million.

Morrisons said Mr Bolland will remain as its chief executive until the end of the company's financial year in late January. It has started the search for a replacement, with internal and external candidates set to be considered.

Chairman Sir Ian Gibson added: "The Morrisons Group has a strong and capable senior management team who will continue to deliver the business strategy which has enabled Morrisons to achieve market leading growth this year whilst the board identifies a suitable successor.

"I would like to thank Marc for his contribution over the last three years."

While M&S has weathered the recession in decent shape, Mr Bolland will have a key job in positioning it for any upturn in economic conditions.

Sam Hart, a retail analyst at Charles Stanley Stockbrokers, welcomed Mr Bolland's appointment but said his lack of experience in clothing markets could be an issue.

"He really understands the food and beverage markets, but he has no track record in clothing, so from that point of view, he has got a lot to prove," added Mr Hart.