Meet M&S’ new bosses: Stuart Machin and Katie Bickerstaffe profiled

By  guest author Georgia Wright from Retail Gazette

Retail Gazette finds out more about Stuart Machin and Katie Bickerstaffe, the pair tasked with running M&S.

All Captions courtesy by Retail Gazette

Yesterday Marks & Spencer unveiled its new top team with not one, but two execs stepping into Steve Rowe’s shoes as he revealed he would step down after six years as chief executive.

Stuart Machin, current food managing director and chief operating officer, was appointed chief executive, and in an unusual move his fellow chief operating officer and chief strategy and transformation officer Katie Bickerstaffe will support him as co-chief executive.

This makes Bickerstaffe the first female boss in M&S’ 138-year year history. Sort of.

For although both hold the chief executive title, Machin will take on the day-to-day leadership of the business, whilst still running divisions including areas such as food, operations, and store development.

Bickerstaffe will focus on omnichannel, digital and data, and will maintain responsibility for clothing & home, MS2, international and financial services.

Retail Gazette finds out more about the pair tasked with running one of the nation’s most high-profile retailers.

Stuart Machin

Stuart Machin has almost 30 years experience in the food, fashion and home retail sector, joining M&S back in April 2018 as managing director of food.

He took over M&S Food at a time when it was underperforming. It’s food arm had once been the darling of the high street, however, like-for-like sales had started to slip as the retailer lost its product development edge and its pricing was putting customers off.

Machin has got the food business firing on all cylinders again. It has found its flair in terms of products again and through its Remarksable Value campaign has reset customer expectations in terms of pricing.

Rather than going to M&S for a few treats, it is establishing itself as a place to do the full weekly shop, which is essential for it building an online business of scale with Ocado.

Machin’s CV takes in some of the biggest food businesses in the world, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda – where he was a protégé of M&S chairman Archie Norman – in the UK, and Coles and Target in Australia.

Machin spent a decade down under as COO of Coles then CEO of Target and Coles and led the impressive turnaround of those businesses, before returning to the UK – allegedly persuaded by Norman to make the move – to become CEO at Steinhoff UK, the then-owner of Bensons for Beds and Harveys.

That position was short-lived as he left the homewares business, which was suffering as its South African parent company Steinhoff became embroiled in an accounting scandal, to return to his specialist area of food, taking the top job at M&S Food.

His rapid turnaround of the business made Machin a clear front-runner for the chief executive role, which he clinched yesterday.

Machin has a hands-on approach and is highly regarded by many for his ability to turnaround ailing businesses. He’s already worked his magic M&S’ food arm, expect the rest of the business to benefit from his expertise when he takes the top seat in May.

Katie Bickerstaffe

M&S gets itself another highly experienced operator in the shape of co-chief executive Katie Bickerstaffe.

After cutting her teeth as a management trainee at Unilever, geography graduate Bickerstaffe has risen through ranks of some of the biggest consumer brands in the business, including PepsiCo, Kwik Save, Dyson, and Somerfield.

M&S is not her first chief executive role. She ran Dixons Carphone’s UK and Ireland for almost a decade where she led the transformation its store estate, grew its digital business and launched its ‘knowhow’ services business before departing in 2018.

After a stint as executive chair of SSE Energy, Bickerstaffe was wooed back to the world of retail to join M&S. She first served on the retailer’s board as a non-executive director from 2018, before being enticed back into an executive role.

She took on the position of chief strategy and transformation director in April 2020 as the retailer faced into the Covid pandemic.

It was certainly a challenging time for Bickerstaffe, however, she used the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate M&S’ transformation and helped launch its Never Be The Same strategy to fast track changes.

A big focus of that strategy has been building M& into a platform business and growing a third-party branded clothing business. This has paid dividends and, after a decade of failed attempts, M&S’ fashion division is finally back in growth.

It’s no wonder that she has retained both digital and clothing responsibilities in her new role.

The board on which she used to sit has clearly been impressed with Bickerstaffe’s work as her remit was expanded firstly to joint chief operating officer in May last year before her promotion yesterday.

Bickerstaffe has described her style of running the business as “with an iron fist in a velvet glove”. It’s an approach that gets results as M&S’ turnaround is gaining traction.

In its last half-year results to 2 October, M&S made a profit before tax and adjusting items of GBP 269.4 million, beating analysts forecasts.

Impressively Bickerstaffe has pushed ahead with this dramatic overhaul of one of Britain’s biggest retailers whilst working four days a week, which she has done since her time at Dixons Carphone.

She also holds non-executive positions of the England and Wales Cricket Board and Barratt Developments at the same time.

M&S has clearly hired itself highly efficient leader who gets things done.