The chief executive of Marks & Spencer is to assume direct leadership of the British retailer’s troubled clothing business after sacking the division’s boss just two days after publicly criticising chronic product availability.
Jill McDonald, clothing, home and beauty managing director, is leaving the business after less than two years in the job, M&S said. Group CEO Steve Rowe will take over the leadership of the division directly in the near term, it added.
“The business now needs to move on at pace to address long-standing issues in our clothing and home supply chain around availability and flow of product,” said Mr Rowe.
“Given the importance of this task to M&S, I will be overseeing this programme directly,” he said.
Mr Rowe did praise Ms McDonald for strengthening the clothing management team, improving the quality and style of products and setting a clear direction for the business to attract a younger family age customer. But product availability remains a major problem for M&S, something Mr Rowe highlighted at Tuesday’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
He said a February promotion for jeans badly backfired when M&S failed to buy enough stock and sold out.
“That led to us having some of the worst availability in casual trousers I’ve seen in my life,” said Mr Rowe. Ms McDonald joined M&S in October 2017 to take on one of the biggest jobs in British fashion, having previously been the chief executive of bicycles and car parts company Halfords. Her appointment raised questions from some because she had no clothing retail experience.
After several failed relaunches over the past decade, the jury is out on whether the 135-year-old M&S can rise to the challenges posed by fast-fashion chains such as Zara and H&M in its clothing business.
M&S set out its latest turnaround plan shortly after retail veteran Archie Norman became chairman in September 2017 to work alongside Mr Rowe, who became CEO in 2016 and has been with the company three decades. In May M&S reported a third straight drop in annual profit in the 2018-2019 financial year, with clothing and home like-for-like sales down 1.6%.
Its shares are down 30% from a year ago.
Ms McDonald was a Mr Rowe hire. On appointment, he highlighted her “fantastic customer insight” and operational, retail and leadership experience developed at Halfords and fast-food giant McDonald’s.