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Getting up at 4.30am, how his mother inspired him and the battle to overtake Waitrose: How M&S boss Stuart ‘the Machine’ Machin has turned the High Street giant around

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Stuart Machin has worked tirelessly to propel himself up from the shop floor to the boardroom. 

More than 30 years ago, at the age of 16, he landed his first job as a £3.80-an-hour shelf-stacker at a Sainsbury’s in Kent. 

By the age of 21, he was running his own department, before rising even further in the ranks to oversee 180 stores in the south of England. He went on to work at other retail giants such as Tesco and Asda until 2008. 

But in May 2022, Machin landed the top job, becoming chief executive of Marks and Spencer at a time when the company was in turmoil, having been relegated from the FTSE 100 for the first time ever in 2019. 

Driven by an overarching ‘paranoia’ to be the best, a trait instilled in him by his mother who had a successful career in property, Machin turned the company around, with it’s share price almost doubling since he joined. 

While Machin doesn’t like to attribute all the success to himself, his obsessive nature to be the best is a clear driving force. 

He told The Telegraph his weekly routine sees him wake up at 4.30am everyday before spending hours taking calls and visiting stores up and down the country, all while sporting entirely M&S apparel. 

Chief executive Stuart Machin's working life began as £3.80-an-hour shelf-stacker at Sainsbury's, and he reportedly now earns £800,000

Chief executive Stuart Machin’s working life began as £3.80-an-hour shelf-stacker at Sainsbury’s, and he reportedly now earns £800,000

Machin has turned M&S around, with the company's share price almost doubling since he joined in May 2022 (Stock image)

Machin has turned M&S around, with the company’s share price almost doubling since he joined in May 2022 (Stock image)

One of M&S' dresses was modelled by Hannah Waddingham in its star-studded festive TV ad in December 2023

One of M&S’ dresses was modelled by Hannah Waddingham in its star-studded festive TV ad in December 2023

In his early years, Machin had wanted to head to university to train to become a religious studies teacher, but he later decided against it.

‘After finishing my A-levels, I was offered a place at university, but at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to stick with retail,’ he said.

‘Put simply, I loved the excitement retail offered. Serving and selling to customers, working in a team, the opportunity to progress.’

His first role in the shopping industry came at the age of 16 when he began as a trolley pushers at his local SavaCentre – a chain of hypermarkets which was a joint venture between Sainsbury’s and BHS. 

The company was later taken over by Sainsbury’s before being integrated into the supermarket chain’s wider brand in 2005. 

He remained at the company until the age of 32, when he moved on to work for the likes of Tesco and Asda. 

In 2008, Machin moved to Australia where he spent eight years working for the Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers. 

Then in 2022, Machin became the boss of M&S at a time when shoppers were facing the worst of the cost of living crisis. 

At the time, he promised to maintain the brand’s high quality products while offering ‘a great everyday price’.

M&S CEO Stuart Machin pictured with Co-Chief Executive Katie Bickerstaffe

M&S CEO Stuart Machin pictured with Co-Chief Executive Katie Bickerstaffe

Sophie Ellis Bextor models a jacquard round neck mini shift dress for M&S in another festive Christmas ad

Sophie Ellis Bextor models a jacquard round neck mini shift dress for M&S in another festive Christmas ad

He said M&S was ‘investing in the value of everyday items families buy week-in week-out, without compromising the quality’.

‘We want M&S to be more relevant, more often and that’s why now is the right time to go further, by investing in the value of everyday items families buy week-in week-out, without compromising the quality our customers want and expect from us,’ he added in a letter to customers. 

Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength. Earlier this year, rising food and clothing sales saw M&S regain top spot as Britain’s favourite fashion retailer for the first time in four years. 

The store’s rising sales have also led to a 56 per cent increase in half-year pre-tax profits, taking them to £325.6 million.

But despite the company’s dramatic turnaround in fortunes, Mr Machin still thinks there is work to be done, as he sets his sights on overtaking archrivals Waitrose in market share rankings. 

He told the Telegraph: ‘You could argue we should have overtaken them already. I might even be arguing that internally here.’ 

Machin said he sees a bright future ahead in the short term, as summer gets into full swing and the company begins preparing for Christmas. 

He added:’Our prices will remain flat year on year. That’s what we’re trying to hold to. But the style and the quality of the product, I think has stepped up this year, significantly.

‘Where I really want to get to in the next 12 to 18 months is a bit more service, a bit more selling and serving.’

But his ambitions have been stymied by the Government. Last year M&S was refused permission to knock down and redevelop its flagship shop on London’s Oxford Street after opposition from Michael Gove.

Stuart Machin, the boss of Marks & Spencer, gives a talk at the company's end of year meeting in 2022

Stuart Machin, the boss of Marks & Spencer, gives a talk at the company’s end of year meeting in 2022

Last year M&S was refused permission to knock down and redevelop its flagship shop on London's Oxford Street after opposition from Michael Gove (pictured)

Last year M&S was refused permission to knock down and redevelop its flagship shop on London’s Oxford Street after opposition from Michael Gove (pictured)  

M&S boss Stuart Machin said the decision was 'utterly pathetic' and means the company would have to review its future on the historic shopping street. Above: How the proposal could have looked

M&S boss Stuart Machin said the decision was ‘utterly pathetic’ and means the company would have to review its future on the historic shopping street. Above: How the proposal could have looked

Machin said the decision is ‘utterly pathetic’ and meant the company would have to review its future on the historic shopping street. 

Although the decision has now been overturned by the High Court, meaning it will be up to the next government to decide the store’s fate. 

Machin told The Telegraph: ‘I would hope whoever is in government, whether it’s Conservative, Labour or anyone else that they listen, I would hope any government is pro-business, pro-growth. 

‘I did say that being a business leader under that government was like running up a downhill escalator with a rucksack on your back and I stand by it.’ 

In another confrontation earlier this year Machin blasted some of the Government’s business policies as ‘economically illiterate’ and said they were ‘stymying growth’.

The supermarket chief called for three main changes in the Budget, including fixing a ‘broken’ business rate system, reshaping funding to train young people, and restoring tax-free shopping for tourists.

The Mail has been campaigning for an end to the tourist tax, which was introduced in 2021 by Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor.

Mr Machin is among more than 500 business leaders – including the bosses of Primark and John Lewis – who have written to Mr Hunt calling for a change of tack.

His criticism went further as he lambasted Government policy for making the running of his business, which employs 65,000 people, ‘really hard’.

He posted on LinkedIn: ‘Government policy makes being an employer of people and running stores – which the same MPs vaunt in their constituencies – really hard. It’s like running up a downwards escalator with a rucksack on your back.’

Mr Machin said ‘a longer conversation’ was needed ‘about how the Government must do more to understand the importance of the retail sector to the economy’, pointing out that the industry employs more than 3million people and pays £17billion in taxes every year.

The M&S boss called for ‘decisive action’ to halt an increase to business rates, the taxes paid by retailers on their stores.

he Marks and Spencer Marble Arch department store in Oxford Street

he Marks and Spencer Marble Arch department store in Oxford Street

The Marks and Spencer building on Oxford Street is seen in December 1964

The Marks and Spencer building on Oxford Street is seen in December 1964

The shop floor of Marks & Spencer's Oxford Street branch in September 1955

The shop floor of Marks & Spencer’s Oxford Street branch in September 1955 

The increase is pinned to September’s 6.7 per cent inflation level – despite inflation dropping to 4 per cent in January.

He said a sharp rise in business rates ‘at a time when the Government is looking to tackle inflation… and people are struggling with the cost of living, is economically illiterate’.

Mr Machin also said that ‘overly restrictive requirements and bureaucracy’ were holding back firms like his from being able to train apprentices.

The M&S boss said his company contributes £5.6million to an apprenticeship levy per year but can use only a third of it due to red tape.

His final demand was for the axing of the tourist tax, which he said has been ‘felt way beyond retail’.

The levy is costing the UK’s economy £11billion in lost growth, according to figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

As someone who described himself as ‘a bit of a rebel on hierarchy’, Machin’s outspokenness is no surprise.  Although in the workplace, it is no only his voice that has the last say.

‘I’m a bit of a rebel on hierarchy. We don’t really like it. We just want to do what’s right for M&S and I don’t like layers of approvals. I don’t mind whoever goes and talks to the board. Mary on the checkout has just as much say as I do and everyone can voice an opinion,’ Machin said. 

Despite his ridiculous weekly regiment of waking up at 4:30am everyday to read the news and go through important documents, Machin insists he has a good work life balance. 

He told the Telegraph: ‘I do have a sense that I have to work a bit harder than anyone else. I do think that you reap what you sow. If you’re well paid and you’ve accepted responsibility then you should put more into it.’ 



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