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New boss for M&S
Feature: 3/7/2002

UK clothing retailer Marks & Spencer has promoted Roger Holmes to chief executive as part of a management reshuffle designed to put the finishing touches to its recovery (director-e News, Friday 12 July).

Clean-cut Roger Holmes may look more than a bit like the men who model Marks & Spencer's clothes in its adverts. But he has not risen up through the company ranks.

The new chief executive joined M&S only a year and a half ago, in January 2001. He was head-hunted to lead the UK retail operations by Luc Vandevelde, the man he is set to replace as chief executive in September.

Roger Holmes readily acknowledges that M&S has some way to go to be certain of holding on to the improvements in profits and sales over the past year. "We've got a lot of ground to recover", he said. "Over the last few years we've lost a lot of market share".

But he is confident the retailer is doing the right things - revamping its stores, improving its clothing collections and controlling costs. He intends to put the focus "on continuing everything that we as a team have been doing over the last year or so, that customers have been noticing".

Roger Holmes (right) with George Davies.
Roger Holmes (right) with George Davies.

Top job

So who is Mr Holmes and what experience does he bring to the top job at M&S?

Most City of London observers agree he is "very personable, bright, intelligent", says Nick Bubb, retail analyst at French investment bank Societe Generale (SG). SG is a broker for Kingfisher, the giant retail outfit where Roger Holmes spent six years before joining M&S.

He began his career with the consultancy firm McKinsey, joining Kingfisher in 1994 as finance director of DIY retail chain B&Q. He became managing director of Woolworth's and then, briefly, chief executive of Kingfisher's electrical retailing division.

However, his stay in the job was brief - prompting City of London retail analysts to write him off as a lightweight when he jumped ship to become head of M&S' UK retail sales. "People said at the time of his appointment that he was just a consultant but he's shown he's more than that", said one analyst who did not wish to be named.

Roger Holmes' bosses have tended to see him as the heir apparent. At Kingfisher, "he would have been one of the favourites" to succeed chief executive Sir Geoff Mulcahy, the analyst said. And he quickly assumed this role at M&S, where he impressed by overseeing the recovery of the retail operations in spite of having no previous experience of selling clothing.

Strong team

He benefited from having a strong team around him, but played a major role in picking out George Davies to revitalise women's clothing at M&S, analysts say. "He's been very involved in getting the marketing right, the product right", said Mr Bubb.

Roger Holmes himself is keen to stress that the company's sparkling sales growth was the result of "team effort".

"We do expect levels of growth in the market to slow down . . . and equally we will come up against more challenging figures", he says.

M&S has raised his basic annual salary to £600,000 from £425,000. If sales slow again, he can expect to have to earn every penny.
Author: John Gibbon
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