New M&S boss bids to woo small shareholders
The new boss of Marks & Spencer appealed to the British retailer's army of private shareholders to back his attempt to revive its clothing business, but some attendees at yesterday's annual investor meeting remained fearful of another false dawn.
Steve Rowe, a 26-year M&S veteran who succeeded Marc Bolland as chief executive in April, has pledged to turn around the clothing business by improving ranges and availability, cutting prices and offering fewer promotions.
His plan came with a warning of a short-term dent to sales and profit and last week the 132-year-old group reported its worst quarterly clothing sales fall for a decade.
Mr Rowe said in May that he would focus on the retailer's average customer, a 50-year-old woman he described as "Mrs M&S", who had been neglected in the pursuit of younger, more fashion-conscious shoppers.
"I know that it's a big ask for me to stand here today with a new set of ideas and ask you to trust me that things will be different this time," Mr Rowe told a packed meeting in London.
"(But) I firmly believe that we can return our clothing business to positive growth."
Small private shareholders account for about a quarter of M&S equity, prompting Mr Rowe to take steps to counter the most vocal perennial agm complainers by inviting a group to a shareholder panel "tea party" last month.
The tone of the meeting was generally positive, with one shareholder describing the speech as "inspirational stuff".
But A Mrs Smith introduced herself as "not Mrs M&S" and questioned whether management understands its customers. Shares in M&S, down 38pc over the past year, rose 1.5pc to 334 pence at yesterday's close. (Reuters)