Marks and Spencer hires Halfords boss Jill McDonald

Jill McDonald Image copyright Halfords/PA

Marks and Spencer has hired the boss of bikes and car parts retailer Halfords, Jill McDonald, to take charge of clothing, home and beauty.

The retailer has struggled with its clothing sales in recent years amid increased competition on the High Street and from online retailers.

Sales in the clothing and home division have improved recently, but M&S has said more work was needed.

She fills the role left by Steve Rowe when he became M&S chief executive.

Mr Rowe said: "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," he said.

Ms McDonald, who ran the UK arm of McDonald's before joining Halfords, said: "I have long been an M&S customer and professional fan, so working with the brand was a career opportunity that I just couldn't turn down."

She will join M&S in the autumn.

Image copyright PA

Mr Rowe has made it his mission to revive the clothing division, saying he wants to make it simpler and put customers back at the centre of its business.

But Ms McDonald has a tough job ahead of her.

'Shock appointment'

M&S has suffered intense competition High Street rivals such as Zara, Primark and Topshop. Many of its traditional customers have complained of multiple clothing lines that have little to differentiate them and a lack of fashion-conscious vision.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb described Ms McDonald's appointment as a "shock".

"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," he added.

Brokers Canaccord and Liberum both said the announcement was "unexpected" and "disappointing" for Halfords, whose shares were 3% down on Wednesday.

Canaccord pointed out that it was the second time Halfords had lost a CEO to a "bigger" role at a rival.

Former Halfords' chief executive Matt Davies left to run Tesco's UK business in 2015.

Last month M&S revealed plans to shut six stores while opening 36 brand new ones over the next six months, creating more than 1,400 jobs.

The plans involve opening 200 new food-only stores, while selling clothing and homeware from 60 fewer stores.

Also, M&S has revealed plans to venture in to online grocery deliveries, with reports of a potential deal with Ocado.

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