Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: M&S Boss Has Paid Price for Providing Quick Fix

Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: M&S Boss Has Paid Price for Providing Quick Fix

Article excerpt

Two years is a long time in any sort of business. To Luc Vandevelde, recently deposed from his job as chairman of Marks & Spencer, May 2002 must seem like a million years ago. It was then that the affable Belgian announced that M&S had turned the corner, pocketing a pounds 2m pay and bonus package for his role in making that turnaround possible. Life was sweet.

Fast-forward two years and we find Cool Hand Luc - as the press had deferentially called him - accosted on all sides with fierce criticism of his role, his time commitments and even his overall achievements. Irrespective of whether you consider that the criticism is fair or not, I can't help feeling that he is being made a scapegoat.

One of the charges levelled at Vandevelde is that his efforts amount to nothing more than papering over the cracks at M&S. Of course he went for a few easy hits when he took on the role, but who wouldn't when confronted by a struggling business with shareholders desperate to see improvement?

Let's not forget, those changes worked. Vandevelde took over in early 2000. By the end of 2001, M&S had opened the first Simply Food stores, launched the Per Una range and was the FTSE 100's top performer for the calendar year. After that, Vandevelde may have considered he had done his job. He demerged the roles of chairman and chief executive, bringing Roger Holmes into the latter role, and turned his own role into a part-time one. As soon as M&S started to fall back into old ways, the improvements Vandevelde had made were dissipated and the spotlight again swung his way.

That spotlight came to rest on a man who was by now busying himself with numerous other projects - Vodafone, Change Capital Partners and Carrefour - all played out in the full glare of the media.

Importantly, Vandevelde seemed to lose the media's sympathy. From having been so supportive of what he was doing, they were now quick to point out the lack of fashion expertise at the top of the company and how the well-paid chairman appeared reticent to turn up to work. M&S' defence that his time commitment to the business was as planned was never going to get much play in a media now showing their fickle side. …

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