I think we are all perhaps missing the real tragedy that is Marks & Spencer.
The two great pioneers of M&S – Simon Marks, who became chairman in 1916; and Israel Sieff, who took over in 1964 – pioneered a revolution in retail thinking and practice based on quality, reliability, value and trust. What is common practice today was quite revolutionary at that time.
The opportunity existed, then, for their successors to build a truly unique global brand based on these values and the company’s growing worldwide reputation. Yet all they did was to make some half-hearted attempts to get into western Europe and a totally bungled assault on the US market.
Just contrast this with truly great companies such as Sony, Wal-Mart, IBM, McDonald’s etc. Their founders also had a vision, but they had the drive and imagination to realise people all over the world would buy into it.
The difference between Tesco and M&S is not just that the latter temporarily lost touch with its customers: it is much more basic than that. Tesco realises that you simply cannot thrive by competing only in this green and pleasant land. The world has shrunk, and the great companies are those that have spread their wings and taken their trading philosophy far and wide.
How sad it is that today’s M&S management has to concentrate its efforts on the micro-task of attracting more middle-aged British women into its UK stores, whereas Wal-Mart – whose philosophy is an offshoot of Marks’ and Sieff’s – has the biggest turnover of any company in the world.
Should Philip Green’s bid have succeeded? The tragedy is that he did not make it 20 years ago!