After six years in the M&S CEO role, Rowe will stand down on 25 May as part of a planned succession programme.

He will be succeeded by Stuart Machin who will take on responsibility for day-to-day leadership of the business and the Executive Committee. He will continue to have oversight of his current portfolio of responsibilities, which includes the leadership of the food business, as well as operations, property, store development and technology. He will also take on responsibility for HR and corporate communications and will join the PLC Board.

Katie Bickerstaffe will become co-chief executive with a particular focus on driving the global omnichannel, digital & data future for the business. She will retain her existing portfolio including responsibility for clothing & home, MS2, international and financial services. Katie will also re-join the PLC board with effect from 25 May where she was previously a non-executive director. 

Eoin Tonge becomes chief strategy and finance officer. In addition to his current responsibilities, he will play an enhanced role in leading the future development of the business. He will also take on oversight of Plan A and will remain on the PLC Board.  

Rowe has been in the CEO role since 2016. Under his leadership, the online penetration of the clothing & home business has doubled, among other successes.

He said: “It has been an enormous privilege to lead the business I love and have spent almost all my career working for. Leaving will be in many ways very difficult for me but I feel that after six hard years it is the right time to pass on the baton. I am enormously grateful for the support I have had in driving through the extraordinary transformation programme of the last few years from shareholders, the board, but most of all the many thousands of colleagues in the business. A piece of my heart will always remain with the M&S family, and I feel that we have done many of the hard yards to restore the business to what it should be. I’m proud that I am leaving a very strong team that will lead it into the next growth phase. I wish them every success.”

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M&S is now embarking on the second phase of its transformation programme called “Shaping The Future.” The board’s view is that under the current team, the business has made remarkable progress and that continuity of strategy and leadership is advantageous. It also believes that bringing together what it describes as three outstanding leaders will provide the stability, pace and bandwidth required to accelerate the pace of change.

Archie Norman, chairman, commented: “The appointments we are making today bring together a very strong leadership team to take the business into the next stage of its transformation. Both Stuart and Katie are outstanding high impact leaders with very strong track records and experience of leading businesses through transformative change. With Eoin, they make a very powerful leadership team able to span the full breadth of our businesses. Given the very strong recent progress we have made, keeping up the pace and momentum is critical. We are delighted to have brought together three exceptional individuals who, with the support of the executive committee, will provide vision, energy and pace for this next phase.”

Commenting on the news, Chloe Collins, apparel analyst at GlobalData said: “Steve Rowe has really turned M&S around, in the last couple of years especially, with sales in its latest results beating pre-COVID levels, even in Clothing & Home, which has long been its handicap.

“His joint successors, Stuart Machin and Katie Bickerstaffe have big shoes to fill, but the fact they were already leaders within the business should make the transition relatively smooth. Its Food division will face immediate challenges due to rising inflation, so it is important they continue to place focus on offering great value products. And as a knock-on effort, clothing will fall on consumers’ priority lists as they have to spend more on essentials, so continuing to create a compelling offer with wide appeal through its third-party brand partnerships is crucial, alongside an agile and efficient online platform.”

Yesterday (9 March) M&S announced a new strategic investment in brand platform The Sports Edit in a continuation of its focus on activewear — a market which is now worth almost GBP900m (US$1.18bn) after seeing 35% growth over the last two years.

It said The Sports Edit has a proven capability in brand curation and emerging brand identification, both of which will provide valuable learning opportunities for M&S as it further grows the ‘Brands at M&S’ platform. 

As part of its brands strategy, M&S is utilising a range of models including wholesale agreements, exclusive collaborations and investments (including its minority stake in Nobody’s Child) and seed funding for small brands via the True Fund. The Brands strategy also includes selected acquisitions such as Jaeger and now The Sports Edit.