HR & Management

The man behind M&S sales rising for the first time in four years will become CEO of another firm

3 min read

17 July 2015

Despite Marks & Spencer (M&S) shares rising to a seven-year high, the retailer has struggled to turnaround its merchandise division. This setback paved the road for John Dixon, who was in charge of general merchandise, to leave the company and head another business.

One year after the departure of FD Alan Stewart, CEO Marc Bolland has lost his general merchandise director. John Dixon, who worked his way up the corporate ladder since starting as a store management trainee in 1986, joined the board in 2009 as head of food and became executive director of general merchandise in 2012.

With M&S struggling to deliver a sustained increase in underlying clothing sales, however, Dixon is set to leave the company immediately. He does so amid reports of M&S merchandise sales dropping by 3.1 per cent – which Bolland described as “not being good enough”. Its attempt to revive the division was also delayed due to the overhaul of the M&S website. 

Recently, the division showed signs of recovering after the retailer invested in both the design of its womenswear and improving its gross margins. In March 2015, like-for-likes sales in the company’s general merchandise arm rose 0.7 per cent. It pushed the M&S share price to its highest level in seven years, and represented the first time in four years that M&S had grown general merchandise sales

At the time, Bolland had said the company had been “bang on trend”.

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Dixon is now set to become the chief executive of another retailer, though details of where he is going have not yet been disclosed.

He said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed many happy and successful years at M&S. I now have the opportunity to become a chief executive and have therefore resigned from this great company. I wish it, and all my colleagues, every continued success.”

He was considered to be a candidate to succeed Bolland as CEO, but Steve Rowe, the head of food, is now said to be the most likely successor.

Retial analyst Nick Bubb said: “It is a shame that Dixon is leaving, but it looks as if he was moving down the internal pecking order at M&S, having been given the thankless task of running M&S clothing. It remains to be seen how far the current M&S food boss Steve Rowe, the internal favourite to replace Bolland in due course, will be handicapped by taking on Dixon’s difficult job.”

While analysts have debated whether the change puts Rowe in pole position to succeed Bolland, Bubb has suggested that the odds have lengthened. He claimed Rowe would have been better placed if he was still running food rather than “drinking from the poisoned chalice that is M&S clothing”.

Rowe has said he would like to take on the role of CEO.