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M&S's head hunt could lead to its first female boss

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M&S’s head hunt could lead to its first female boss as retailer kickstarts process to replace CEO Steve Rowe

  • M&S has hired headhunter MWM Consulting to advise on a plan
  • Potential internal candidates include COO Katie Bickerstaffe
  • Others are Stuart Machin and finance director Eoin Tonge


Marks & Spencer has kickstarted a process to replace chief executive Steve Rowe.

The country’s biggest high street retailer has hired headhunter MWM Consulting to advise on a plan that will consider three internal candidates including Katie Bickerstaffe, who would be the company’s first female boss if appointed to the role.

Candidates also include Stuart Machin, who has revitalised the company’s food business, and finance director Eoin Tonge.

Hunting for a new boss: M&S has hired headhunter MWM Consulting to advise on a plan

Hunting for a new boss: M&S has hired headhunter MWM Consulting to advise on a plan

Signs that M&S is poised to consider replacements for Rowe suggest the mood at its Paddington headquarters is brightening further after the hard work of the past four years since chairman Archie Norman’s arrival.

The retailer is understood to have had an enviable end to the year on both food and clothing as many retailers struggled with disruption.

It has consistently ranked as the market’s strongest performing food retailer this autumn and insiders say clothing sales have been so healthy that it will only begin wholesale price cuts when the Boxing Day sale kicks off online at the end of this week.

A formal search process has yet to begin and Rowe could remain at the helm for another couple of years, Sky News said. But sources told The Mail on Sunday the announcement of his replacement could come as soon as next year.

Sky added that the benchmarking review of internal candidates – a common part of boardroom succession processes – will eventually lead to a formal search in due course that will include external contenders.

CEO Steve Rowe could remain at the helm for another couple of years, Sky News said

CEO Steve Rowe could remain at the helm for another couple of years, Sky News said

However, M&S has put significant effort into grooming internal candidates. Bickerstaffe, former boss of Dixons Carphone’s UK and Ireland business, was initially drafted into a non-executive board role in 2018. Last year she moved to a significantly more hands-on role as strategy and transformation director.

Then, earlier this year, Bickerstaffe and food boss Machin were promoted to joint chief operating officer roles. effectively pitting them head-to-head for the top role.

The new board structure swiftly followed a report in the MoS that Machin was regarded as a top candidate to run Asda.

Rowe, who started as a Saturday boy at M&S aged 15, has been chief executive since 2016 after taking over from Marc Bolland. Rowe’s retail knowledge, energy and understanding of the business are widely believed to have been vital in getting the company back in shape.

An M&S spokesman said: ‘Every board has succession planning as part of its thinking but we have no formal process in place.’

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