Marks and Spencer has poached the head of UK car-parts seller Halfords to lead the turnaround of its struggling clothing business, handing one of the industry’s toughest tasks to a fashion novice.
Jill McDonald will start at the clothing giant in the autumn, having resigned from Halfords after just two years in the job, the companies said in separate statements.
In her new role, Ms McDonald will be responsible for turnaround plans at a division that showed signs of revival during the Christmas season after a five-year sales slump.
Having previously worked at fast food giant McDonald’s and British Airways, she brings little experience of the clothing market, though some analysts said that may not count against her.
Ms McDonald “cannot be seen as a clothing expert,” David Jeary, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, said in a note.
“What she does bring is considerable experience in marketing and customer relationship management, which have become even greater areas of focus.”
The appointment concludes a year-long search by M&S chief executive Steve Rowe, who has continued to lead the clothing business he ran before being promoted to group head in April last year.
M&S was said to have offered the job to former Next star Christos Angelides prior to his appointment as head of UK fashion chain Reiss earlier this year.
Ms McDonald’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,” Mr Rowe said in a statement.
Not all analysts were convinced of the merits of the appointment, however.
“M&S’s key issue in clothing and home stems from its slow and unresponsive supply chain, and given
Ms McDonald’s limited experience in this area, we see little reason to turn more positive,” Michelle Wilson, an analyst at Berenberg, wrote in a note.
The news represents a setback for Halfords, coming two years after former chief executive Matt Davies was hired by supermarket giant Tesco to head its UK grocery business.
Ms McDonald will remain head until the end of her notice period in October, the retailer said.
A process to find a replacement is underway.
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