Marks & Spencer has parachuted in chairman Archie Norman’s former protege to stop the rot at its food business.
The High Street stalwart named former Bensons for Beds and Harveys chief executive Stuart Machin managing director for food – a new role created as the company fights the onslaught from rivals.
Announcing the appointment, chief executive Steve Rowe also outlined plans to cut food prices and overhaul its offer in a bid to win back customers.
New M&S food boss Stuart Machin poses with Australian pop star Dannii Minogue
The retailer has admitted its food range is too complex, availability too low and food waste too high.
Rowe said: ‘We face challenges in our food business and we have lots to do to change, fast. Stuart is an excellent addition to our team.
‘He gets food retailing and he has first-class experience of driving change in big food retailers.
‘At M&S we need to sharpen our prices, improve our products, drive profitability and grow market share. Stuart is the right leader to get on and deliver these changes.’
Protege who fought back from scandal
When Stuart Machin was picked to be Sainsbury’s youngest store director at 27, a rapid rise to the top began.
Educated at all-boys’ Howard School in Kent, he went on to jobs at Tesco and Asda, where he was singled out by boss Archie Norman as a star of the future.
Sure enough, Machin was poached to run Australian supermarket Coles and then Target in 2013.
He became well-known Down Under, regularly being snapped at celebrity events.
But last year his career almost ended when Target’s owner was alleged to have mis-stated accounts. Machin, 49, quit, despite protesting his innocence.
Within weeks he back in the UK running Harveys and Bensons for Beds.
Norman, now M&S chairman, must have spotted an opportunity to woo back his protege.
Machin’s appointment comes as M&S undergoes a radical transformation which has so far seen it shut stores, slash hundreds of jobs and bring in new people to revive the brand.
M&S has also sold its 27 stores in Hong Kong and Macau to a franchise partner as it focuses its efforts on the UK.
It is the latest move in an aggressive push by M&S to fight the growing threat of discounter rivals like Aldi and Lidl.
While it has struggled to keep up with the changing tastes in fashion, M&S’s food business has been a star performer.
Much of this was credited to Rowe who ran the food division before taking over as chief executive.
However, in the past year even M&S food has fallen behind competitors.
Big Four supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons are also implementing strategies to lure customers.
Morrisons’ plans are paying off after strong sales and profits last year saw it reward investors with a £238million dividend payment.
This week Sainsbury’s upped the ante and cut prices on hundreds of products including toiletries, veg, meat and ready meals.
Machin, who is highly respected in the retail industry, has held top roles at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda and spent time heading two of Australia’s biggest retail names – supermarket Coles and department store chain Target.
During his time as operations director at Asda, Machin was mentored by chairman at the time Archie Norman, who now oversees M&S.
Former Asda chief executive Andy Clarke described him as ‘undoubtedly a talented retailer and probably one of the best operations guys that I’ve worked with’.
Machin will join M&S in late April, replacing Andy Adcock, the director of food.