9 December, 2015

Full marks, Simon Marks

If there is one name that stands out in the history of M&S, it is that of Simon Marks. Son of our founder, Michael, he was the Chairman of M&S for 48 years. During this time he transformed the business, presiding over our greatest period of change and expansion.

A junior director and chief buyer at 24; a director at 26; and Chairman at 28, Simon’s undoubted entrepreneurial talents took him a long way in a short time. It was a visit to the US in 1924 that inspired him to embark on the first of many changes and innovations. Here, he learned the importance of attractive displays in spacious premises, proper stock control and sales records and that each foot of counter space had to earn its keep. He also established the direction of the company in selling clothing and food, as well as establishing the precedent of working closely with suppliers to reduce costs, offer value for money and safeguard the quality of products. 

St Michael brand

It was Simon who developed the famous St Michael brand as a hallmark of quality on selected products. The brand was only finally laid to rest in 2000 when it was replaced with the Marks & Spencer brand. He was a man ahead of his times in many ways. He established the Staff Welfare Service, for instance, which was the most comprehensive of its kind at the time. This was, in part, inspired by the shock at the privations his staff were suffering from during the Great Depression, as well as by a heated dinner party discussion on the subject with Flora Solomon, whom he appointed its first head. 

The 30s saw the business grow apace. By 1935, pre-tax profits had reached £1m for the first time and there was a head office move to Baker Street too. As the decade drew to a close, M&S had 234 stores and 18,500 employees. 

Science and technology

Throughout his time as Chairman, Simon was a powerful advocate for another touchstone of M&S’s success. He was an early champion for harnessing science and technology to improve standards and processes; something which remains very much at the heart of the M&S of today.

His dedication, entrepreneurial spirit and shrewd head for business not only enabled him to enhance the fortunes of the business his father founded, it also resulted in several high-profile public appointments. Knighted in 1944, he was made a hereditary peer in 1961 as Lord Marks of Broughton. He died at his desk at the company he did so much to grow and nurture in 1964.

Inside M&S