The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer: ...and How It Rose Again by Judi Bevan

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The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer: ..and How It Rose Again by Judi Bevan

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Category: History
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A very readable account of the development and growth of the company that was once the nation's favourite retailer. There's in-depth analysis of what went well and what didn't. Even if you've no interest in the company or retailing it's still a very interesting read and highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1861978981

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Throughout my life I've had a changing relationship with Marks & Spencer. Back in the sixties I was a Saturday girl and worked full-time in some school or college holidays. As an adult it was the source of most of my clothing and of my daughter's too. Finally I achieved a long-held ambition and became a shareholder: after all what could be a safer home for my savings than the nation's best-loved retailer? Then disillusionment set in. People who worked in the stores started to murmur that all wasn't quite what it had been. The clothes no longer lived up to expectation: the styles were dowdy and the quality not up to scratch. Finally, the share price plummeted and along with a lot of other people, I was left poorer.

I wasn't wiser though. I wanted to know what had happened, to understand why dear old Marks and Sparks had become the pariah of the retail sector in just a few short and turbulent years. There were a lot of stories in the press but it was difficult to piece it all together and even harder to separate truth from gossip. Judi Bevan, an experienced financial journalist, gave us 'The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer' in 2001 and I did wonder if the story could stand another outing. I was wrong. The first book was outstanding but this completely updated version covering the period up to 2006 is worth the cover price for the additional material alone.

The founder of the company was Michael Marks, an immigrant from Russian Poland and it was his partnership with Tom Spencer which saw the birth of the company. Despite the fact that Spencer was only with the company for a few years and died some four years after the partnership became a limited company his name is still there on the stores. It was Michael Marks' son, Simon with his childhood friend, Israel Sieff, who was to drive the company to greatness. The chairman of the company was a family member until the nineteen-eighties when Sir Derek (later Lord) Rayner took the helm, but it was under Sir Richard Greenbury that the company first broke the one billion pound profit barrier - and then went into disastrous decline.

If you have no interest in Marks & Spencer, or retailing, or a hundred and more years of social history then this book is still worth reading. It's an intriguing story of good judgement and hard work, of greed and pettiness, of outstanding merchants and utter fools. But not only is the story worth reading, it's told in a way that makes it more exciting and readable than many works of fiction. Judi Bevan can convey dry facts and figures and make them into intriguing reading. The nitty-gritty of a largely secretive company suddenly becomes accessible and interesting.

It's a splendid piece of analysis and not just a retelling of the facts. Bevan points up the times when wrong decisions were made - the closure of the European stores for example, or decisions such as the move into out-of-town stores made too late. She shows the complacency amongst the directors about rivals such as Next and the way that Greenbury lacked people skills and control of his temper.

It's not too many years since I read the first part of the book but even on rereading it still felt fresh and interesting. The best part of the story for me was the analysis of the recent years under Stuart Rose and his approach to taking over a business with such problems. I read the book over two evenings and found it difficult to put down. It's never dry but pithy and to the point and a real pleasure to read.

My thanks to the publishers, Profile Books for sending me a copy.

Buy The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer: ...and How It Rose Again by Judi Bevan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer: ...and How It Rose Again by Judi Bevan at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer: ...and How It Rose Again by Judi Bevan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Rise and Fall of Marks & Spencer: ...and How It Rose Again by Judi Bevan at Amazon.com.

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Magda said:

I never thought too much about their food section, but still wish I could afford to buy my clothes there.

Jill said:

Actually, I'd find this interesting. Back in the day, when I was at a silly grammar school, it was considered heresy not to go on to uni. One of the few "acceptable" careers to embark upon was one of M&S' training programmes. I quite fancied being a buyer, as I recall. I've often wondered how it all went so spectacularly wrong.

Sue replied:At the time when you would have been going through the system, Jill, I think you might have found that there was something of a glass ceiling for women in the company.

Jill said:

Ooh, doubly interesting considering I was at a girl's grammar school!