New Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland has offered shareholders his first insights into the retailer.

Despite last week telling reporters he would not be revealing his views on M&S until November, the former Morrisons boss yesterday told shareholders at the retailer’s AGM that he planned to focus on the M&S brand and its heritage during his tenure.

“During the last 10 weeks I have been getting around meeting staff, customers and visiting stores, and I can tell that it’s a great business, not only from our first-quarter results, but in general,” Bolland told a packed audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

“Hats off to Stuart and the team for the many good things they have done.”

Bolland, who was sporting an M&S suit, said the business was great because of shoppers’ “big respect for the brand”, which was “very, very precious and close to their heart and skin”.

“I am a person of evolution, not revolution,” he said. “I will build on the good. It is very damaging to make changes for the sake of it. Yes, there will be change, but it will be building on the things that are good.”

Bolland said he had noticed a “great passion” for the business among customers and staff.

“Heritage is so important,” he added. “You have to look closely back to know where you are going.”

The retailer successfully fought off a much-hyped shareholder revolt over Bolland’s £15m pay package, although one shareholder remarked that the only difference between himself and Bolland was that Bolland “no longer had to do the lottery”.

Another shareholder expressed concern that Bolland was not at M&S for the long term. Chairman Sir Stuart Rose, however, insisted Bolland was a “stayer”.

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Rose defiant ahead of crunch AGM (14 July 2010)
‘Return to quality’ helps M&S beat market (7 July 2010)