Page 1: Introduction
Marks & Spencer is Europe’s most profitable retailer with a global brand and global recognition. Its achievement largely depends on the effective use of people. An organisation may have the latest technology and the best physical resources, but it will never thrive if it does not value its people. Its most valuable asset will always be its people and the work they do. For Marks & Spencer, this means that the people who look after customers, select and merchandise the products and run the operations, must aspire to be the best qualified and equipped in retailing.
Marks & Spencer’s leading position in the highly competitive market-place depends on its ability to stay one step ahead of other retailers, both in the products and services on offer and how the business is organised to deliver them. As an organisation which recognises the importance of innovation, Marks & Spencer tries to nurture flexible and imaginative people. The Company needs people who are good at planning and organising, who can set objectives, establish priorities and allocate proper amounts of time to activities.
This case study focuses on the challenging role of the Financial Manager behind the scenes at every Marks & Spencer store. In doing so, it highlights many of the qualities, such as leadership, adaptability and analytical consideration, required by Financial Managers every day in a busy retail environment.
Working for a retailer
Retailing is ‘the practice of selling goods in small quantities to the general public.’ It is a business where employees come face-to-face with customers every day. Customers can be very demanding - they enter a store and expect their needs to be met immediately, irrespective of whether the lorries delivering bakery goods are stuck in snow or that a key supplier is having production problems.
Many businesses in different types of environment are able to keep their customers at arm’s length. If they need to do some training or catch up on paperwork, it is relatively easy to make time. This is not the case in a Marks & Spencer store. It is just not possible to ignore customer demands. This may often mean having to juggle many tasks at once, such as an accident on the sales floor, a customer complaint, a stock problem or a till breakdown.
Retailing is renowned for its unpredictability with every day bringing new problems to solve. Good management is all about using managerial experience, instinct and flair to make the best possible decision to overcome the problem. Everything a manager does in retailing is in the public eye. Successes and mistakes are there to see. And, of course, there is also evidence – usually in the form of increased or decreased sales - by which to measure performance.
Some people say that ‘retail is detail’ - it is about getting small things right, without losing sight of long-term objectives. Making the right decisions ensures that customers come back tomorrow - and the day after. This case study examines the role of the Financial Manager at Marks & Spencer.