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Halfords chief Jill McDonald drafted in to head M&S's clothing arm

Marks & Spencer has poached the chief executive of Halfords and put her in charge of shoring up its embattled clothing arm.

The high street bellwether said Jill McDonald had been recruited into the new role of managing director for clothing, home and beauty, joining the retailer in the autumn of this year.

The move will see Ms McDonald take over the responsibility of running of the clothing division from chief executive Steve Rowe, who has remained in charge of the operation since his promotion to the top job in April last year.

M&S was given a boost at the start of the year when like-for-like sales in its clothing and home division rose 2.3% in the 13 weeks to December 31 - the first growth since the January to March quarter in 2015.

However, Mr Rowe stressed at the beginning of 2017 that there was more work to do in its efforts to revive clothing sales and suggested the quarterly rise may not mark a return to sustained sales growth.

Speaking about Ms McDonald's appointment, Mr Rowe said: "I am pleased with the progress we have made in Clothing & Home over the last year and the time is now right for this appointment.

"Jill is an excellent addition to the M&S senior leadership team and we are delighted that she is joining us.

"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 in to growth."

The firm said Ms McDonald will report to Mr Rowe and oversee all areas of the non-food business, including taking over the supply chain and logistics operations for Clothing, Home & Beauty from chief finance officer Helen Weir.

Ms McDonald, who was the UK boss of McDonalds before taking the helm at Halfords in 2015, said she would look to "build on the plans that are already under way" at M&S.

She said: "M&S has a unique, special relationship with its customers and I am very motivated by working closely with customers to drive and shape results.

"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."

The announcement comes after the retailer revealed at the end of last month that it was planning to close six stores as part of a review that will impact 380 staff.

Last year M&S said it would open 200 new food-only stores and sell clothing and homewares from 60 fewer locations following years of stagnation at its general merchandise division.

Shares in the company dropped more than 1% in morning trading on the London Stock Exchange.

M&S is said to be exploring the launch of a home delivery service through a technology deal with Ocado, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The two retailers are reportedly set to launch talks in the coming weeks, b ut M&S is said to be exploring a number of options that could see it strike up a separate partnership or ditch those plans altogether.

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