Shareholders of Marks & Spencer’s may be enthralled by the Rose versus Green prize-fight but should ask themselves if they are witnessing a macho personal contest or a sincere struggle to win the challenge of reviving a fading national icon. And does the result even matter?

The clothing retailing model that made the M&S name combined tight UK or EU sourced manufacturing control, just-in-time-sales delivery and rapid sales data feedback. These meant M&S could offer keen prices all the time, maintain inventory of in-demand items and be confident of satisfying customer taste. The M&S brand was a rare jewel - something the customer would cross the road for.

Is it still?

Five years ago, the model collapsed. UK and EU sourced clothing became uneconomic and M&S moved to source abroad. The just-in-time-system and sales feedback components stalled in the face of logistic knots and quality issues. The retail world also changed with designer brands becoming king. In short, M&S had to learn to compete with traditional clothing retailers without the protection of their own proprietary retailing model. That model, inextricably linked to sourcing from UK clothing manufacturers, died with the industry's inability to compete economically with international rivals.

And that is what the last five years have been about - adaptation to a changed environment, a task at which traditional M&S managers failed. Bringing in external candidates to head up the company or its key departments is a sure sign of catastrophic internal inability to cope and is in itself no guarantee of success. Staff morale swoons and the new management is effectively starting from scratch. Shareholders will have to tolerate a long period of consolidation (more than one in this case) and possibly more exasperatingly expensive payoffs - verging on larceny - to failed outside managers. And all before expecting any proof that The New M&S Model can compete.

Clothing is 50% of M&S sales. Food, suffering its own identity crisis and faced with rivals who are not standing still, is about 43%. Investors should ask themselves if they are willing to tie up their capital waiting for M&S to master the new realities under a Rose or a Green (in the unlikely event he stays public), or look for better returns elsewhere. Either way, the company is not the investment vehicle it was.

400 pence per share looks a good way out.

Postscript (15 July 2004): Green drops his bid no doubt to concentrate his fire on M&S from the retailing battlefield. Does he get another chance at his prey in the next 12 months?

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