Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman admits his turnaround has ‘taken too long’
The president of Marks & Spencer has admitted that his recovery has “taken too long”.
In a radio interview, Archie Norman also said the state of the High Street retailer was “fragile” and that it “could go backwards” if executives diverted attention.
He has chaired the FTSE 250 group since September 2017.
Norman, 69, joined less than a year after then-CEO Steve Rowe unveiled a five-year cost-cutting campaign and shakeup of M&S’s clothing and homeware lines. Norman was chief executive and then chairman of Asda from 1991 to 1999 and is credited with rescuing the supermarket before its sale to US giant Walmart.
But he said that his time at M&S had been much tougher.
Admission: Archie Norman said the state of the High Street retailer was “fragile” and “could go backwards” if executives diverted attention.
“M&S has been, in some ways, the toughest retail challenge of my turnaround career,” he told LBC’s Money podcast.
“Undoubtedly Asda was in worse shape, but generally speaking M&S had suffered 25 years of drift until recently,” adding: “It has been a great challenge.
‘I think it has taken too long. I’ve been [at the company] for five and a half years. I wake up every day wondering ‘What the hell have I been doing?’
But Norman cautioned that he thinks he’s “all fragile.” “He might back off,” he said.
‘We need to keep the spirit of change.’
He spoke on a podcast broadcast the day before the company’s annual meeting. Norman has spearheaded a recent campaign called Share Your Voice which aims to increase shareholder democracy and drive individual investor engagement.
But he was criticized by organizations that had backed the campaign for encouraging his sponsors not to attend the annual meeting. His comments come amid a huge rally for the company that has seen its share price rise nearly 40 percent in 12 months.
The renaissance included the closure of dozens of larger stores and the renovation of others to attract new customers and save hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
M&S overhauled its clothing ranges, allowing it to cash in as workers returned to the office and people went back out after Covid lockdown restrictions ended.
Profit and sales were up for the year to April 1, though a deal he signed in 2020 with online supermarket Ocado has run into some problems.
Norman, who served as Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells between 1997 and 2005 and was shadow environment secretary under William Hague, said a key focus was for the chain to shed its outdated reputation.
‘One of the things I always hear from people is ‘I love M&S; I used to go shopping there with my mom and your heart sinks,” she said.
That’s lovely, but it’s not who we want to be today.
‘We absolutely want to be in favor of the modern mainstream.
“We’re 30 to 40 percent of the way to who we can be.”