Jul 11, 2019
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M&S clothing boss Jill McDonald exits retail giant, CEO takes control

Jul 11, 2019

Jill McDonald is no longer head of the fashion, home and beauty division at M&S. The announcement of her departure came Thursday afternoon after widespread speculation earlier in the day.


M&S said that chief executive Steve Rowe will be taking over the leadership of the unit directly in the near term, a role he’s held before as he was in charge of the division before his elevation to the top job and also continued to oversee it for a while once he stepped up as CEO.

Rowe put a positive spin on the move, saying: "Jill was brought in to establish a strong platform for the transformation of the Clothing and Home business. She has achieved that; she leaves with my thanks and good wishes for the future. She has recruited a talented team, improved the quality and style of product and set a clear direction for the business to attract a younger family-age customer. 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. Given the importance of this task to M&S I will be overseeing this programme directly.”

McDonald had been with the still-in-turnaround-mode retail giant for less than two years, having arrived after time spent as CEO of car accessories retailer Halfords and UK head of fast food chain McDonald’s (no relation).

But the firm’s key business unit continues to lag its foods operation and despite Rowe’s praise for McDonald, it’s clear that she hasn’t achieved what had been hoped. When her appointment was originally announced, he’d hailed her “first-class customer knowledge and great experience in running dynamic, high-achieving teams,” despite some analyst scepticism over her lack of fashion, interiors or beauty knowledge.

She herself had called the M&S job “a career opportunity that I just couldn't turn down.”

While holding one of the most important jobs at the retailer, McDonald wasn’t elevated to the board and with the problems in the division, as well as Rowe having held the role previously, it can’t have been an easy post to step into.

Regardless of who’s running the unit though, the big question now is whether the giant clothing ops ever can be returned to growth following years of trying to inject some dynamism back into them.

A couple of months ago, the company reported another Clothing and Home division sales fall, of 3.6%, with comparable revenue down 1.6%. Neither of those figures would have been especially worrying in isolation, but they came after a series of revenue drops. And at its AGM this week, Rowe had directly referenced availability issues this year, saying it sold out of popular jeans and couldn’t meet ongoing demand, creating “some of the worst availability I'd seen in 30 years.”

That kind of public admittance by a CEO of a major misstep is often bad news for the senior executive concerned and so it has turned out.

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