Winner: Stuart Machin - M&S CEO 

Stuart Machin was given an impossible brief. To turn around a business that everyone had written off. On the food side, it had competitive advantage but no scale; on the fashion side, it had scale but no competitive advantage. Its store estate was tired, its products expensive, its supply chain creaking and cranky. Its customers were too old to matter.

And yet, through Machin’s incredible energy and enthusiasm, his shopkeeping and operational skills, his inspired people management, his attention to detail, and his refusal to take no for an answer, he has navigated M&S first through the pandemic, when many of its stores were closed, and now through a cost of living crisis.

And somehow it’s winning new customers and opening new foodhalls that have earned rave reviews from customers and the admiration of rivals, “with the look and feel of a Whole Foods but a more manageable cost base”, as one put it.

Of course, the turnaround of M&S and its transformation has been a team effort. But colleagues, suppliers and City analysts are in no doubt as to Machin’s personal contribution.

Justin King, the ex-Sainsbury’s CEO (and now a non-exec director of M&S) believes the top job at M&S is “the broadest, most complex CEO role in UK retail”.

And he points out that the route to that top job has never before been via the head of food role. “So the fact he achieved this is testament both to his transformation of food – evidenced again just recently with M&S securing top spot in the Groceries Code Adjudicator Survey – and to the unique knowledge and experience he has acquired on his varied journey to the top.”

Stuart Machin

All those who encounter Machin are struck by his energy. Marketing and hospitality director Sharry Cramond divulges that for the team “we add an ‘e’ to his name: he is not Stuart Machin. He is Stuart the Machine.”

To SSP CEO Patrick Coveney “he is an absolute force of nature in UK grocery retail”.

“Stuart is a change agent. He’s a change agent on the big stuff, and he’s a change agent on all of the retail detail.”

2 Sisters CEO Ranjit Singh also recalls his surprise on receiving a personal call enquiring about a shortfall in an order.

“Stuart is totally obsessed for the customer, whether that is product quality, innovation, availability or affordability.”

As well as being “engaging and relentless, always demanding of high standards in his team,” King also notes “he is a good listener” – as borne out by his ‘Straight to Stuart’ initiative, “and of all his board colleagues he is always closest to customer and colleague”.

For City analyst Clive Black, “Stuart’s drive, passion and creativity is bringing an energy, positive attitude, self-esteem and confidence that M&S needs but hasn’t had for a while”.

And what’s also refreshing in these remorselessly challenging times is that “Stuart doesn’t just work hard,” adds Cramond, “he also has a lot of fun and has a really big heart”.


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