Marks & Spencer's head of general merchandise John Dixon has quit the business after three years in the role, prompting the retailer's share price to tumble in early trading.
Dixon "has decided to leave the business to pursue career opportunities outside of the company", the retailer said this morning. He will step down from the board with immediate effect and leave the company "on a date to be agreed". It is thought he could be leaving to take up a chief executive role at a rival firm.
The high street retailer, which has been struggling to get its clothing arm back into growth for the last three years, said Dixon would be replaced by Steve Rowe, currently executive director of its food business.
Investors were understandably shaken by the news, which throws into question M&S' succession plan for chief executive Marc Bolland. Marks & Spencer's share price was down 1.3 per cent this morning.
In a statement, M&S said Rowe, who has been with the retailer for more than 26 years, has been "instrumental in ensuring that M&S has maintained its specialist positioning and continued to outperform in a challenging market".
Chairman Robert Swannell said: "On behalf of the board, I would like to thank John for his service over many years and his many contributions to the business in that time. I am delighted that Steve has been appointed to head up general merchandise and wish him every success in his new role."
Marc Bolland, the retailer's chief executive, also thanked Dixon, adding that Rowe has "outstanding experience working across the business and is well placed to take the general merchandise business forward".
Andy Adcock, currently trading director for food, will step up to be director of the division, reporting to Bolland on an interim basis.
Dixon was promoted to executive director of the high street giant's clothing arm in October 2012 after successfully turning around the food division.
It was thought he work the same magic at the general merchandise. But this division has now been in decline for three years. It notched up 14 successive quarterly declines in sales until finally breaking the pattern in April, however earlier this month it slipped back into decline.
It is thought he was looking to move into the top role when Marc Bolland vacates it, however Rowe is now thought to be the natural successor.