What makes successful companies stumble and fall? In our industry we have three big retailers who once could do no wrong and are now struggling. Is it the nemesis that follows hubris and, if so, can they recapture whatever it was that once made them great?

The one that really saddens me is Marks & Spencer as I’m a lifelong loyalist. The first error occurred back in the 1980s, when a misguided attachment to the high street caused it to react too slowly to the growth of out-of-town shopping.

The second was the pursuit of unsustainable profit targets during the 1990s, resulting in under-investment in stores and NPD, triggering a boardroom upheaval and a significant decline in customer goodwill. The third, reflecting a loss of confidence in the once-mighty St Michael brand, was the launch of sub-brands, producing the challenging layout characteristic of clothing ranges in its larger stores.

“Investment in the UK has been sacrificed for short-term profit growth”

The food offer, by contrast, still leads the pack - maybe because the commitment to quality that has always driven it has never been compromised, in contrast to the clothing offer, which has lost both its traditional quality and consistency. Investors’ patience appears to be running out.

Not long ago, Tesco seemed unstoppable. As with M&S, however, investment in the core UK business seems to have been sacrificed for short-term profit growth and foreign start-ups. Unlike M&S, its market leadership gives management some time to sort out the problems and the abandonment of the hubristic US venture bodes well. But the foundation stone of Tesco’s past growth - its superstore portfolio - has clearly been replaced by something more complex.

The third and in some ways most intractable case of decline is Morrisons. Hopelessly ill-equipped to absorb the much more complicated Safeway business (classic hubris), it is now a fundamentally different company from the monolithic entity it once was. As the fourth player in a mature market with no hope of improving its position, no online business to speak of and nothing distinctive in non-food, the future looks bleak.

Whatever their future, it will never be “glad confident morning again” for any of them.

Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant