Industry insiders have expressed surprise at the appointment of Halfords CEO Jill McDonald as managing director of clothing and beauty at Marks & Spencer, citing her lack of fashion experience as a concern.
McDonald, who joined Halfords in 2015, will join M&S this autumn, reporting to CEO Steve Rowe. She previously worked at fast food chain McDonald’s for nine years and British Airways for 16 years.
“It is bizarre,” said the CEO of one womenswear multiple. “She is obviously a very capable business leader, however, she has no understanding of fashion and its levers, and this is a hands-on role driving major assortment change.”
The managing director of another womenswear firm agreed: “It is certainly a surprise – burgers and bikes to M&S clothing? She is clearly a very talented leader and presumably they will rely on the clothing experience beneath her, but it will be a big challenge.”
Jo Jenkins, current director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty, will add responsibility for menswear and kidswear to her remit when McDonald joins. Jenkins will take on the new role of clothing and beauty director and will report into McDonald.
One source questioned the new structure: “I’m surprised. The structure is very top heavy now. They recently appointed Michael Kerr to menswear and kidswear director, he now reports to Jo [Jenkins] who in turn reports to the new MD, who reports to the CEO.”
Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said: “M&S investors will know from bitter experience not to get their hopes up that a new boss of M&S clothing will make any difference. It goes without saying that there is nothing in her CV that would have implied that she was a candidate for this key position. It will be interesting to see how long she lasts at M&S.”
However, headhunter Richard Hollister described the appointment as an “inspired selection”.
“At such a senior position the person is not a range selector. They do not need to be a product person, just a great leader and drive direction. McDonald is customer orientated and digitally-minded and, as a former CEO, she can manage costs. Most importantly she is now being groomed for the top CEO job at M&S.”
Another source agreed that McDonald may one day step into Rowe’s shoes: “It feels like they may have appointed her as a potential successor to Steve rather than someone to add expertise in clothing or home. Maybe they believe the [existing] internal team has the skill.”