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Great Responsibility at Age 19

Simon Marks was born in Leeds on 9 July 1888, and was the eldest son of Michael and Hannah Marks. Simon was seen as the natural successor to his father, so was sent first to Manchester Grammar School and then to France and Germany to improve his language skills and learn more about business.

Black and white photo of Simon Marks in his twenties
Simon Marks

On Christmas Eve 1907, just a few weeks after Simon's return home, Michael Marks collapsed. He died a few days later on New Year's Eve. Simon, aged 19, was suddenly catapulted into a position of responsibility, not only for his family, but also for the future of Marks & Spencer. He was devastated by his father's death, and wrote to a friend: 

'The responsibility which so suddenly descended on me has aged me by ten years... At home everything is different. Everything which used to be so jolly is now dispiriting. We wait for the absentee but he does not come.'
Simon couldn't take on the role of director until he was 21. So he was too young to intervene when the two legal executors (appointed to represent both Simon and Thomas Spencer Junior) tried to take control of the Company. However, by 1912 Simon and Thomas had become junior directors and chief buyers. The Chairman was William Chapman (Tom Spencer's executor).
Letter from Israel Sieff to M&S Company Secretary, August 1916
Letter from Israel Sieff 1916
Simon worked hard and showed great entrepreneurial flair, so by 1914 he had been appointed as a director. Despite this success, Simon was often in conflict with the Chairman. Eventually Simon took the matter to court, and in August 1916 won his place as Chairman of M&S aged 28. The letter from Israel Sieff above contains the request for Simon's promotion as an item on the agenda.
Black and white photo of Simon Marks and Israel Sieff in their twenties
Simon Marks and Israel Sieff
Israel and Simon were great friends, having been at Manchester Grammar School together. Israel joined the Company and worked alongside Simon for many years, eventually becoming Chairman when Simon died in 1964.
Handwritten questionnaire completed by Simon Marks of Marks & Spencer, aged 16
Questionnaire Completed by Simon Marks
Simon completed the above questionnaire when he was 16 years old - it gives us an insight into his personality, likes and dislikes. He did eventually achieve his ambition of acquiring a title - becoming Sir Simon Marks in 1944, and Lord Marks of Broughton in 1962.


Absentee - a person who is absent/not present
Agenda - a list of matters to be discussed at a meeting
Buyer -  a person who purchases the stock to be sold in a shop
Entrepreneurial - being creative, ambitious and determined
Executor - a person appointed to manage the will of someone who has recently died
Promotion - getting a new job with more responsibility and higher pay