Marc Bolland – the flying Dutchman

It’s probably the biggest retail story of the year, and certainly the most high profile appointment in some time.

Along the way there was of course the usual speculation and second-guessing whether the leaders of the big four would jump ship to take the helm of the high street’s oldest and most revered chain. By naming Marc Bolland as his successor, Sir Stuart Rose appears to have played a blinder.

Bolland is respected and liked in the industry and more than one source I spoke to commented on his “charming and personable” nature and how his appointment will bring a breath of fresh air through M&S – exactly what you want from a new CEO.

A lot of the coverage of Bolland’s appointment has drawn attention to his lack of experience in non-food and fashion. I can’t see how that will be an issue. It was his marketing experience and business acumen that helped him carve a place for Morrrisons as the fourth largest UK supermarket.

But there are areas which I wonder how Bolland will handle, such as M&S digital operations.

I’ve written previously about how M&S has ramped up its online business with the overhaul of its ecommerce site and the introduction of M&S TV.

In contrast, Marc Bolland has deliberately stayed away from taking Morrisons digital, and it is the only one of the supermarkets that doesn’t offer online grocery.

How will he align his views when he moves to M&S where the online operation has been the focus of much of M&S development and growth strategy?

Additionally, an interesting area is the decision M&S has taken to roll out its trial of selling branded goods. It’s interesting for M&S to do something like this and it helps pitch M&S as a place customers can do their entire food shop as opposed to one off shopping,

It’s a move so leftfield of what M&S has ever done before, that it wouldn’t be surprising if the decision to take it across the chain was at least in part influenced by Bolland.

There are already a few names being thrown around as a possible successor for Bolland to take over at Morrisons.

Morrisons financial chief Richard Pennycook has been touted as a likely contender, while some of the upper echelons of rivals Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s management have been highlighted as possible runners.

My money’s on former Aldi managing director Paul Foley who suddenly left the retailer he had spent 20 years with in August.

Foley steered the German chain from virtual obscurity in the UK through a changing marketplace in which it saw sales grow 44% on the previous year at its peak in 2008, to become an established player in the UK grocery market.

Whoever Morrisons picks to fill the Dutchman’s shoes, hopefully the search for a successor will go as smoothly as M&S’s hunt and not the bumpy road traversed by ITV in its search.

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