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New Marks & Spencer CEO Steve Rowe Still in Charge of Clothing

Steve Rowe, who took the helm at Marks & Spencer Saturday, has said he will carry on leading the retailer’s troubled clothing division for the foreseeable future.

Rowe, a company veteran who most recently served as the executive director of general merchandise, told Reuters he had no plans to appoint a replacement and that GM business unit directors would continue to report to him. “Because that’s where I believe the priority is,” he said.

When the news broke earlier this year that Marc Bolland would retire in April after six years as CEO and that Rowe would step into the top spot, some analysts weighed the possibility of the 132-year-old retailer shifting its focus to food rather than on struggling areas such as apparel and footwear.

But Rowe has made it clear that won’t be the case.

For the 13 weeks ended Dec. 26, Marks & Spencer reported a 5.8% decline in like-for-like sales in its general merchandise division, which includes home goods in addition to clothing and shoes, citing unseasonal conditions and availability.

While e-commerce revenue grew during Bolland’s tenure, his attempts to stimulate clothing sales were not successful. Can Rowe flourish where his predecessor failed?

“I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. Doing things simply means we serve customers better, manage costs, and work more efficiently,” he said in a memo to staff. “I wholeheartedly believe in the growth of this business. We need to work together and work smarter in order to do it, but I know that it’s achievable and that we can achieve it in a profitable way for our shareholders.”

Rowe, 48, has spent more than half his life working at Marks & Spencer, starting as a “Saturday boy” at his local branch at the age of 15, before progressing to a variety of roles within store management, including merchandiser for menswear and director of retail. He has been a board member since 2012.