In a week that has seen M&S tempt supply chain fixer Lawrence Christensen out of retirement and hire Julian Richer to sprinkle his gold dust on company culture, the appointment of Stuart Machin to head up its food business is the cherry on the icing on the cake.
Make no mistake: the capture of Machin is a huge coup for Steve Rowe that will resonate throughout the industry, not least at Sainsbury’s and Waitrose who have been the main beneficiaries of an unfocused M&S.
Machin’s appointment shows that Rowe is serious about the turnaround opportunity which the food business offers. He is known to have been on the lookout for the right candidate for some time and his patience has finally been rewarded.
The timing of Steinhoff’s accounting scandal has proven serendipitous for Rowe. Machin was brought in as UK CEO last summer to transform the Harveys and Benson brands, but those plans have since been put on ice. Although Machin was committed to steering the business through a difficult trading period in January and February, the lure of a return to grocery was always going to prove too strong to resist.
Despite his recent dalliance with home furnishings and a previous fashion interest in the 90s with SavaCentre, food is where Machin’s heart is and where his talent truly lies. You don’t land senior roles at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Wesfarmers without impressing plenty of influential people along the way, not least his former boss and current M&S chairman Archie Norman.
Harvard-educated Machin has a reputation for being a challenging but involving leader who inspires devotion among colleagues through his drive and charisma. M&S’s new marketing director for food and former Coles colleague Sharry Cramond captures his essence neatly when she describes him as being “unbelievably driven and focused” with a “big heart”.
The addition of a strong, energetic leader to his executive team will relieve some of the burdens from the shoulders of Rowe, who has been overseeing the food business since his promotion to chief
executive. Machin’s appointment, like that of clothing, home and beauty boss Jill McDonald, aligns with Rowe’s strategy of having people with clear track records of running end-to-end businesses at the helm of the two units. Responsibility for M&S’s P&L performance is now effectively split between Machin and McDonald with Rowe free to conduct the orchestra.
Machin has been linked to various CEO roles in both food and fashion in recent times, but the job of helping reboot one of the UK’s most venerable retailers seems like the perfect fit for a man who never shies away from a challenge.