Marks & Spencer to start chairman search as Swannell to retire

Marks & Spencer Group Chairman Robert Swannell will retire in 2017, leaving the United Kingdom's largest clothing retailer with another leadership hole to fill.
Marks & Spencer Group Chairman Robert Swannell will retire in 2017, leaving the United Kingdom's largest clothing retailer with another leadership hole to fill.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Marks & Spencer Group Chairman Robert Swannell will retire in 2017, just a year after he appointed Steve Rowe as chief executive officer, leaving the United Kingdom's largest clothing retailer with another leadership hole to fill as it grapples with sluggish sales and store closures.

The search will be led by the company's senior independent director Vindi Banga, M&S said in a statement Tuesday.

Mr Swannell's association with M&S dates back more than a decade to when he helped defend M&S against a takeover bid by billionaire Philip Green. He became chairman in 2010, succeeding the company's former CEO Stuart Rose.

The retailer's clothing sales have been falling for most of his tenure, leading to last year's appointment of Mr Rowe, who has sought to undo some of the aggressive expansion championed by his predecessor Marc Bolland.

"Steve completed a thorough analysis of the business and developed a detailed plan to build a simpler and more relevant M&S," Mr Swannell, 66, said in the statement. "This plan is now underway and I feel that it is the right time for the business to look for a new chairman."

News of Mr Swannell's retirement met with a cool response. His chairmanship "hasn't exactly been riddled with success," said James Hyde, director of UK executive search firm Flint Hyde. "He has swerved around some big decisions."

Most of his time as chairman was spent alongside Mr Bolland, who in almost six years as CEO was unable to halt a near continuous slump in clothing sales.

Mr Swannell will continue as chairman until his replacement is in place, M&S said.