Marks & Spencer's share price has fallen by almost two per cent this morning on the news of yet another shake-up at the troubled high street chain that will see its womenswear boss Frances Russell step down.
Russell, who has led the womenswear business for three years, will be replaced by M&S’s lingerie boss Jo Jenkins who has been promoted into the expanded role of director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty.
The sweeping changes come just weeks after Steve Rowe assumed leadership of M&S’s general merchandise division after the shock departure of John Dixon.
Rowe, who was previously head of the retailer’s upmarket food division, is understood to have reviewed the management team and decided to bring together all the product areas designed for female customers under one leadership role.
Retail analyst Nick Bubb suggested Russell’s departure was as much about office politics as it was about strategy.
“If you were a sharp-elbowed and ambitious Steve Rowe, three weeks into the job of M&S general merchandise supremo, after the sudden departure of John Dixon, then why not get rid of one your biggest rivals (who was evidently unhappy at being overlooked for your job) and install an apparent acolyte, Jo Jenkins (the head of lingerie and beauty), as your number two?" he said.
An M&S spokeswoman said: “We are pleased to promote Jo Jenkins into the expanded role of director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty. She has a wealth of experience, with excellent product knowledge and great customer understanding.”
The 131-year-old retailer has been struggling to revive sales at its crucial womenswear division. It overhauled its design team two years ago, hiring former Jaeger chief executive Belinda Earl as a style director, and collaborated with celebrities including Dame Helen Mirren to front high-profile autumn campaigns.
The general merchandise division returned to growth for the first time in 15 quarters in the fourth quarter of last year before sliding back to negative like-for-like sales in the first three months of the year.
Chief executive Marc Bolland insisted at the annual general meeting that shareholders would continue to see improvements as its shakes up the way it buys and makes clothing by bringing more design in-house and sourcing goods directly from suppliers.
“You will see more newness in stores and better availability,” Bollandsaid, arguing that for now the priority for general merchandise was primarily to focus on gross margins rather than sales.