Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

M&S Poaches Car-Parts Seller's CEO to Lead Clothing Revival

Updated on
  • Jill McDonald quits Halfords to head retailer’s apparel unit
  • Executive brings marketing, customer experience: analyst

Marks & Spencer Group Plc poached the head of U.K. car-parts seller Halfords Group Plc 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 apparel giant in the fall, having resigned from Halfords after just two years in the job, the companies said in separate statements Wednesday.

Jill McDonald

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

In her new role, 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 the McDonald’s Corp. fast-food chain and British Airways, she brings little experience of the apparel market, though some analysts said that may not count against her.

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 surprise move had little impact on M&S shares, which fell 0.7 percent in early London trading. Halfords dropped 3.2 percent.

The appointment concludes a yearlong search by M&S Chief Executive Officer Steve Rowe, who has continued to lead the clothing business he ran before being promoted to group CEO in April last year. M&S was said to have offered the job to former Next Plc star Christos Angelides prior to his appointment as head of U.K. fashion chain Reiss Ltd. earlier this year.

‘Limited Experience’

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 in to growth,” Rowe said in a statement.

Not all analysts were convinced of the merits of the appointment.

“M&S’s key issue in clothing & 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 CEO Matt Davies was hired by supermarket giant Tesco Plc to head its U.K. grocery business.

McDonald will remain CEO until the end of her notice period in October, the retailer said in a statement. A process to find a replacement is underway.

Halfords said it expects results for the year through March to be in line with analyst estimates.

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