Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) finance chief is quitting the retailer after just 14 months in a fresh blow just days before it is formally relegated from the London stock market’s blue-chip share index.
In a statement rushed out on Saturday morning following an enquiry from Sky News, M&S said that Humphrey Singer had “decided to leave the business and a succession process is now under way”.
Mr Singer joined in July 2018, and was a key part of the management team assembled by chief executive Steve Rowe.
His departure comes just two months after M&S clothing chief Jill McDonald was ousted, and will raise doubts among City investors about Mr Rowe’s judgement in identifying the right executives to spearhead a revival of Britain’s best-known high street brand.
M&S sought to portray Mr Singer’s exit as a personal decision.
He described M&S as “a brilliant business and a much-loved brand for our colleagues and our customers”.
“The transformation taking place is of a scale, depth and pace not seen before at the company,” Mr Singer added.
“After 18 months of working with Steve to lead the transformation strategy and rebuild the finance function I have decided that now is the right time to move on.”
His reference to an 18-month career at M&S appears odd because although his recruitment was announced in January last year, he only took up the role as Helen Weir’s successor in July.
Mr Singer’s tenure has been brief by the standards of finance chiefs at major listed companies, with this weekend’s confirmation coming after persistent rumours that he was unhappy in the role.
A former Dixons Carphone executive, Mr Singer was hailed by Mr Rowe for his experience at another chain undergoing a rapid transition to multichannel retailing.
Sources said that Archie Norman, M&S’s chairman, had been underwhelmed by his top executives’ performance during the roadshow to present the £600m rights issue used to finance its purchase of a 50% stake in the online grocer Ocado’s UK retail business.
In Saturday’s statement, Mr Rowe said the outgoing CFO had been “a huge asset to the business”.
“He has helped to establish the foundations of our transformation with a stronger balance sheet, robust financial controls and a much keener focus on reducing our cost base,” Mr Rowe said.
Insiders said M&S had already held talks with a number of possible successors to Mr Singer, although their identities were unclear this weekend.
It was unclear whether Mr Singer would be in line for any form of payoff, although shareholders are likely to be furious if he does receive one given its presentation of the news as his decision.
The food and clothing retailer’s relegation from the FTSE 100 – 35 years after the index was established – marked a significant symbol of its declining fortunes.
M&S now has a market value of less than £4bn, having seen its shares plunge by close to 30% over the last year.
The high street bellwether has been pursuing a restructuring programme for several years as it tries to keep pace with a fast-changing retail climate.
Scores of stores have already been closed, while Mr Rowe told investors at M&S’s annual general meeting earlier this year that the current proposal to close 110 shops was “not finite”.
In total, the company has incurred restructuring charges of more than £1.5bn during the last four years, a grim figure which has decimated profits and contributed to a cut to its dividend.
However, M&S has also promised to deliver cost savings of at least £350m within two years.
Its struggles have echoed those of the wider high street, with rivals including Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group and Debenhams forced to turn to varying forms of insolvency mechanism in a bid to survive.
In addition to the appointment of retail veteran Mr Norman as chairman two years ago, M&S’s board has been strengthened by the arrival of Justin King – the architect of a successful turnaround of J Sainsbury – as a non-executive director.
M&S is not due to update the City on its trading performance again until November, when it reports half-year results.