The no-nonsense mum taking on the toughest job on the High Street: M&S pinches Halfords boss to save ailing fashion lines
The boss of bicycles and car parts chain Halfords has been poached by Marks & Spencer to revive its troubled clothing division.
Jill McDonald, 52, will take up the newly created role of managing director for clothing, home and beauty this autumn – handing her one of the toughest jobs on the High Street.
The married mother of two joined Halfords only two years ago, having spent the previous five years running the UK arm of US fast-food giant McDonald’s.
The appointment raised eyebrows, given her recent experience selling burgers and bikes, and M&S shares fell 1 per cent, or 4.3p, to 366.5p.
Bikes and burgers: But after two yeas at Halfords Jill McDonald must revive M&S’s ailing fashion lines
Jonathan Pritchard, an analyst at Peel Hunt, said: ‘The biggest question mark surrounds the lack of experience of clothing in her CV.’
Clothing has long been a problem for M&S, with sales in the general merchandise division falling for five years in a row amid criticism of its fashion ranges in the face of fierce competition online and from rivals such as Zara, Next and Primark.
There have been tentative signs of improvement under new chief executive Steve Rowe, who succeeded Marc Bolland last year, with sales in clothing and home up 2.3 per cent at the end of 2016.
M&S sources said the appointment of McDonald reflected the need to put a ‘really serious business leader’ in charge of the division as it recovers.
- Jill McDonald, 52, is a mum of two boys who began her career at Colgate Palmolive then British Airways
McDonald, who is paid a basic salary of £510,000 at Halfords, will take charge of a team that includes style director Belinda Earl, womenswear design director Queralt Ferrer, and clothing and beauty director Jo Jenkins.
Rowe said: ‘I am pleased with the progress we have made in clothing and home over the past year and the time is now right for this appointment.
Jill’s first-class customer knowledge and great experience in running dynamic, high-achieving teams make her exactly the right person to lead this all-important part of our business from recovery into growth.’
McDonald hailed the ‘unique, special relationship’ M&S has with its customers, adding: ‘I have long been an M&S customer and professional fan, so it was a career opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down.’
Nick Bubb, an independent retail analyst, described the appointment as a ‘shock’ and said: ‘It will be interesting to see how long she lasts.’
He added: ‘It goes without saying there is nothing in her CV that would have implied that she was a candidate for this key position at M&S.
‘There are doubtless many executives in fashion retailing, at home and abroad, internally and externally, who will be feeling that they were better qualified for the role. But leftfield choices can sometimes be inspiring.
‘It would be ironic if Jill McDonald goes from dealing with flat tyres at Halfords to finding that the engine of the M&S clothing business has a flat battery.’