By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) - Marks & Spencer <MKS.L> non-executive director Katie Bickerstaffe is to shift to an executive role at the British clothing and food retailer to bolster its latest turnaround attempt, the company said on Wednesday.
Bickerstaffe, a non-exec since 2018, will join the executive team at one of Britain's best known retailers as chief strategy and transformation director from April 27, working four days a week and reporting to the group's chief executive Steve Rowe.
She will be accountable for developing and overseeing M&S's strategic transformation programmes. She will lead the strategy team, M&S Bank and energy teams and IT, serving on both the PLC board and operating committee.
Bickerstaffe succeeds strategy director Melanie Smith, who last year became CEO of Ocado Retail - the joint venture between online grocer Ocado Group <OCDO.L> and M&S.
After more than a decade of false dawns, M&S set out on its latest transformation plan shortly after retail veteran Archie Norman became chairman in 2017 to work alongside Rowe, who has been with the firm for 30 years and became the boss in 2016.
The plan suffered a setback last month when M&S reported a disappointing Christmas trading update, hammering a share price which is down 36% over the last year.
M&S is also currently without a permanent finance director and is yet to name a start date for Richard Price, its new clothing boss recruited from Tesco <TSCO.L> in November.
Bickerstaffe is vastly experienced. She was previously executive chair of energy provider SSE Energy Services and is a former boss of the UK and Ireland division of electricals retailer Dixons Carphone <DC.L>.
She has also worked for Kwik Save, PepsiCo <PEP.O> , Unilever <ULVR.L>, Dyson and Somerfield.
"Her experience in leading roles at UK food and non-food retailers and track record of delivering large-scale change will be invaluable as we accelerate our transformation," said Rowe.
M&S said Rowe was instrumental in Bickerstaffe taking an executive role to assist him.
But some observers said that given Bickerstaffe's track record she should now be considered as a prime candidate to succeed Rowe and become M&S's first female boss in the group's 136 year history.
"Let’s be honest - a chief strategy and transformation officer is what the CEO’s day job is," said one former M&S director.
"I’m sure this is as overt as Archie can be in signposting what must be coming."
(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Michael Holden and Jane Merriman)