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Threats of takeover bid and faltering sales.

The speedy appointment of Stuart Rose has shown that Marks & Spencer is in no mood to mess about when faced with the twin threats of a takeover bid and faltering sales.

While former chairman Luc Vandevelde looked to have turned the retailer around two years ago, latest results showed the revival was short-lived.

Bottom-line profits of pounds 781.6m were still well short of the pounds 1.2bn the group made in its heyday in 1998 when it was the UK's most profitable retailer.

Under the leadership of Mr Vandevelde, M&S overhauled stores, closed overseas interests and introduced new ranges such as the successful per una womenswear line.

In 2002, the group celebrated its best operating profits for four years and Mr Vandevelde declared that the company had "turned the corner".

The recovery seemed to be firmly on track, with second-quarter sales smashing expectations in October, followed by a good Christmas for the chain. A range of boys' clothes ( DB07 ( created with footballer David Beckham also did well and was seen as a major coup for the chain whose clothes were often criticised as being too frumpy in the past.

But a tough summer followed as sizzling temperatures put shoppers off the high street, although in November 2003 the company posted a 7.4pc rise in profits for the first half of its financial year.

The chain geared up for the Christmas rush with a beefed-up gift catalogue and extended party range, but the season was disappointing. Shoppers failed to warm to clothing and homeware ranges and M&S announced a 2.3pc drop in like-for-like sales for the seven weeks to January 10.Clothing director David Norgrove agreed to step down in the wake of the poor sales and the job of reviving the clothing division was handed to former Selfridges boss Vittorio Radice. He had already overseen the new furniture and homeware venture Lifestore, launched in Gateshead a week earlier.

Asda's Kate Bostock was later appointed as head of womenswear ( the part of the business most under pressure.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2004
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