Mission Impossible. That's what analysts called the job of reviving the fortunes of legendary British retailer Marks & Spencer Group (MAKSY ). But after two years at the helm, Luc Vandevelde, 50, has put the spark back into Marks & Sparks, as the 119-year-old retailer is known.
The chairman, dubbed "Cool Hand Luc," is right on schedule. In May, 2000, Vandevelde promised shareholders he'd quit if he didn't meet his goal of restoring M&S to financial health within two years. His restructuring plan was brutal: He closed the retailer's 38 stores on the Continent, eliminating 4,000 jobs. He sold off such ailing U.S. businesses as the Brooks Brothers clothing chain and King's supermarkets, and he put the focus back on M&S's core British market. Vandevelde also brought in creative talent to smarten up M&S's dowdy clothing offerings. It's working. M&S's same-store sales were up more than 4% for the year ended in March. SG Cowen Securities expects M&S to report a 37% rise in pretax profits, to $909 million, on sales of $12 billion for 2002.
Not bad for a former accountant with no experience in clothing retailing. The Belgian, fluent in six languages, spent the bulk of his career at Kraft Foods in Europe. In 1995, he left to head French food retailer Promodes; during his tenure the company's value increased sixfold before it merged with France's Carrefour. With his job at M&S secure, Vandevelde is free to focus on the next phase in M&S's transformation. He plans to improve the home furnishings and beauty product lines and eventually scout out new global markets. Cool, Luc.