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Marks & Spencer CEO Marc Bolland to Retire

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Marks & Spencer Marc Bolland

Marc Bolland, the chief executive officer of Marks & Spencer, will retire in April after six years in the role, the beleaguered British retailer said Thursday.

Company veteran Steve Rowe, currently the executive director of general merchandise, will replace him at the helm.

The news came after Marks & Spencer reported a 5.8% decline in like-for-like sales in its general merchandise division, which comprises clothing, shoes and home goods, citing unseasonal conditions and availability.

However, the 132-year-old retailer said it expects the category’s gross margin to be at the top end of the guided range following improved sourcing strategies and a decision to hold back from heavy discounting.

Marks & Spencer’s food division, meanwhile, had an “excellent” quarter, delivering a 3.7% increase in sales (or 0.4% on a like-for-like basis) during the three-month period and a 17 percent surge in sales in the key Christmas week.

But the C-level shuffle hasn’t come as a surprise.

Bolland, who joined the company in May 2010, made “significant investment” to improve infrastructure and capabilities, and while e-commerce revenue grew during his tenure, he failed to stimulate clothing sales.

Rowe, who has been with the company for more than 25 years and been a board member since 2012, previously served for three years as executive director of the food division during which time he led it to 12 consecutive quarters of like-for-like growth, boosting margin and other key performance metrics.

Some analysts are now wondering whether Marks & Spencer plans to focus its attention on food rather than on struggling areas such as apparel and shoes.

“All the excuses in the world about unseasonably warm weather can’t hide the fact that a 5.8% slide in like-for-like non-food sales is little short of dismal,” John Ibbotson, director of retail consultancy Retail Vision, told Reuters. “Years of long-term decline have seen it lose both its identity and market share and the decision to sacrifice quality in order to cut costs has proved toxic for the brand’s core middle-class customers—who have been deserting in droves.”

Chairman Robert Swannell revealed that the nomination committee’s decision to appoint Rowe was “unanimous,” touting his deep knowledge of the brand as well as his proven track record of delivering results in key parts of the business.

Bolland is set to step down on April 2, but will remain available to assist in the transition until June 30.

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