BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Business
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Market Data 
Your Money 
Business Basics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 22:10 GMT
M&S' Mr Turnaround on target
M&S chairman and chief executive Luc Vandevelde
Luc Vandevelde steers M&S into calmer waters
Two years ago on Thursday, Luc Vandevelde accepted one of the toughest challenges of his career when he took over as chairman of the UK's best-known retailer Marks & Spencer.

The retail operation that Mr Vandevelde inherited on 28 February 2000, buffeted by two years of dwindling sales and failed revamps, bore little resemblance to the stock market and high street superstar of the mid-1990s.

We would not want to be complacent in any way, but the signs of recovery, as promised by Mr Vandevelde, do seem to be underway

M&S spokesperson
The company's core clothing sales were in steep decline as shoppers sought out trendier alternatives, and investors, shocked by two profit warnings, had wiped a third off M&S' share price the previous year.

Belgian-born Mr Vandevelde, a lifelong retail executive who had previously steered French supermarket chain Promodes into a merger with its biggest domestic rival Carrefour, began his stint as M&S chairman with a flourish.

All or nothing

In May 2000, he effectively staked his reputation on successfully pulling M&S out of the mire, promising to resign if the company had not turned the corner within two years.

With the deadline now fast approaching, it looks as though Mr Vandevelde's initial confidence was well-placed.

While M&S may not be entirely out of the woods yet, the patient is definitely showing signs of life.

The company cheered investors last year with news of a 20% increase in profits for the six months to September, while UK retail sales for 2001 climbed 5.9% on the year, the fastest growth rate since 1988.

"We would not want to be complacent in any way, but the signs of recovery, as promised by Mr Vandevelde, do seem to be under way," said an M&S spokesperson.

The acid test will come when M&S unveils its full-year results on 21 May. If the company announces an increase in profits for the year as a whole, it will be the first time it has done so since 1999.

Share price surge

Buoyed by analysts' forecasts of a 27% on-year increase in profits, most investors are betting on good news.

M&S stock was changing hands at 376p on Thursday, more than 80% up from a ten year low of just above 200p in October 2000.

Not that it has been plain sailing all the way. Mr Vandevelde, facing criticism after yet another batch of disappointing sales figures, waived his rights to an 816,000 bonus in April last year.

The following month, shareholders hoping for a quick fix were disappointed when profits crashed lower for the second year in a row despite new product launches and an expensive television advertising campaign.

And Mr Vandevelde's controversial decision to pull out of continental Europe, closing 39 stores and axing about 5,000 jobs triggered a damaging labour dispute with trade unions in France.

Future threat

Moreover, there are some new clouds on the horizon. M&S faces a potentially serious new threat in its core UK market from newcomer Zara, a popular chain of Spanish-owned stores specialising in cut-price copies of catwalk fashions.

Analysts believe that the company may look for future growth by expanding its popular food range, although this tactic is likely to run into stiff competition from the established supermarket chains.

But for now, Mr Vandevelde can afford to relax a little, secure in the knowledge that he has probably done enough to meet his self-imposed deadline.

See also:

06 Nov 01 | Business
M&S unveils profit jump
02 Nov 01 | Business
Marks & Spencer sells Spanish stores
24 Jan 00 | Business
M&S goes for Belgian boss
22 Mar 00 | Business
M&S unveils new look
19 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
M&S fights compensation claim
12 Mar 00 | Business
M&S drops St Michael
23 Mar 00 | Scotland
Axed M&S supplier in jobs warning
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Business stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Business stories