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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 14:37 GMT
Belgian set to shake up M&S

Vandevelde and Salsbury M&S hopes Mr Vandevelde (left) will bring a fresh perspective


The appointment of Luc Vandevelde as head of Marks & Spencer ends months of speculation over who would take the chair at the troubled retailer.

Mr Vandevelde has so many years of international retailing and manufacturing experience under his belt, M&S management are hoping that the Belgian retailer is the man to turn the company around.

So far, investors remain unconvinced, put off by his lack of experience of the UK market.


Peter Salsbury Peter Salsbury remains as chief executive

In morning trade, M&S shares rose 1.2% to 311.5 pence, but underperformed the broader market which rose 1.5%.

Clear ambition

Mr Vandevelde said he finally made up his mind to take the job at 10 pm on Sunday night.

Any last-minute doubts appear to have been vanquished when he spoke to the press on Monday morning.

"The problems occurring for retailers in Britain are not so unusual," he said.

"I have experience in about 20 countries and have seen exactly the same problems popping up in every single market. It all has to do with branding and market positioning and it is no different in Britain than anywhere else."

He believes the company has fundamental strengths, such as its brand and financial base, which will ultimately rescue it.


M&S internior M&S clothes: in need of a revamp

"Marks and Spencer is one of the great retail names in the world. Most leading brands go through tough periods at some stage, but if they have the fundamental strengths, they can come back with renewed force."

Kraft work

Mr Vandevelde started his career at Kraft, the food manufacturer, at the age of 20.

He spent 24 years with the company working in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, France and the US.

During this time, he became chief executive of Kraft Jacob Suchard France and Italy.

He forged a reputation as a dealmaker when he joined French retailer Promodes as president and chief operating officer in 1995.

He was named vice-chairman when it agreed to merge with rival Carrefour last September, creating the world's second-largest retailer.

In his four years at Promodes, the company achieved average annual earnings growth of 25% and a six-fold increase in the share price.

Has M&S missed the boat?

The merger with Carrefour, which Mr Vandevelde masterminded, has prompted suspicion that he may want M&S to expand overseas.

Earlier this year, Mr Vandevelde accused UK retailers of "missing the boat" on global expansion, and claimed it would be very difficult for non-international players to broaden their horizons now.

"If you're not international yet, it's going to be very tough to become international. Most UK retailers are stuck," Mr Vandevelde said.

Analysts remain unconvinced that overseas expansion is the route to take. They think M&S's difficulties - and salvation - lie closer to home.

'Outsider'

"M&S's problems are in UK clothing - taking on the likes of Next and Gap. Overseas expansion is the least of its worries," Nick Bubb, analyst at SG Securities, said.

Rowan Morgan, analyst at Teather & Greenwood, said: "His main advantage seems to be that he is an outsider and a younger man. He has plenty of experience in food retail but M&S desperately needs somebody who can sort out their clothes division."

Mr Vandevelde, who will be 49 next month, is an accountant by training, and unusual in that he has made it to the top of retailing without being a product of either a business school or university.

He speaks Dutch, French, Spanish and German as well as English. He lives with his wife, Monique, and 22-year-old son in Paris.

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See also:
11 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S: A brand new challenge
12 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S sales plummet
24 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S goes for Belgian boss
11 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S sued by supplier
06 Jan 00 |  Business
Strong retail sales in December

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