THE chairman of Marks & Spencer opened the company’s newly-housed archive at Leeds University and declared that it would help preserve the company’s enduring values of quality, value, service, innovation and trust.
Robert Swannell, who was raised in North Yorkshire, described the collection of 70,000 items as “a slice of history of this country brought to life”.
He was joined by Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5 and previously a non-executive director at M&S, and university vice chancellor Michael Arthur at a town-and-gown dinner to celebrate the launch.
Dame Stella told the audience: “I grew up with M&S. It occupies a unique place in our country. This archive provides some understanding of how Britain has changed through the years.”
She is a member of the governing body for the archive at the new, jointly-funded Michael Marks building at Leeds University, named after the stall-holder who founded the business at Kirkgate Market 128 years ago.
Mr Swannell, who succeeded Sir Stuart Rose as chairman in January 2011, said: “The archive is much more than a nostalgic collection of old-fashioned artefacts.
“It is a living resource, built from the past but relevant today and into the future.”
He added: “These items are not only charming memories of times gone by.
“They are an immensely valuable resource for M&S today, helping to remind us of where we came from and providing inspiration today.
“Nostalgia is fashionable these days and the archive takes our business teams straight back to the past.
“They can use the best of what we did then to breathe new twists into their work today, helping them and offering our customers a true taste of times past.
“In recent months, we have used the archive as an inspiration for many different products.”
The FTSE-100 company’s material was previously housed in “pretty grim conditions” above an M&S store in North London. Mr Swannell said it was “hardly a fitting tribute” to the company’s history.
“So you can imagine how delighted I am to see the archive properly housed, properly treated and accessible to all. It is everything an archive should be – and more.”
Mr Swannell, a former investment banker, told the audience he spent most of his childhood “in the coldest house in the country” between York and Malton.