Business World

Monday 18 December 2017

M&S shareholders demand results

If Marks & Spencer was hoping to buy time for its clothing turnaround with catwalk models and football, it looked to be in short supply as impatient shareholders today lined up to demand results at its annual meeting.

The retailer broke with tradition by showcasing its new range of autumn and winter clothing - key attempts to reverse flagging sales - with a catwalk show at an AGM held for the first time at Wembley Stadium.

With new style director Belinda Earl watching, models paraded on to the catwalk wearing items including a red party dress, a pink vintage-effect winter coat and a heritage British wool suit. “The past has so much to teach us about the future,” said Ms Earl. “We're putting the pride back into the brand.”

The 129-year-old company is pinning its hopes on the new range, which arrives in store later this month, to revitalise clothing sales, after figures today showed the eighth consecutive quarterly fall in underlying general merchandise sales.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said: “We do not want to disguise that we're not happy. I want to be very candid and honest that this is still unsatisfactory. We've got a very clear plan in place to address it.”

But shareholders did not disguise their impatience. One investor, Jeffrey Judelson, criticised the group's "consistent underperformance with many of its peers".

"You've got to get the home market right," he said. "How long are we supposed to wait before we see the results?"

But Chairman Robert Swannell was defiant, saying the company was “not here for a popularity contest”. “We're here to make the right decisions for the long term,” he said.

The group also faced questions on executive pay, including an £829,000 bonus for Bolland. But Swannell said the award was "wholly justified" and pointed out Bolland's total pay was cut by a third as he missed out on long-term share awards.

Discontent over executive rewards failed to materialise into a major revolt, as a vote on pay was rejected by 8.1% of voting shareholders, while Bolland's re-election was turned down by 4.5% of investors.

About 800 shareholders attended the AGM at the home of English football after the retailer moved from its traditional London venue of the Royal Festival Hall.

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