Halfords poaches McDonald's UK boss Jill McDonald

It's a blow to the fast food giant, but how much does the former marketer know about bikes and cars?

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 05 Jun 2015

That’ll be one McDonald’s boss, to go. No doubt the US fast food giant will be hurting this morning after cycling and car parts retailer Halfords poached UK CEO and president of its north-west Europe division Jill McDonald (who will no longer have quite such an apt name) to be its new chief executive.

McDonald will take over the wheel in May from Matt Davies, who was nicked by Tesco to run its UK operations. She’ll have some big shoes to fill at the FTSE 250 retailer. When Davies took over in October 2012 there had been nine profit warnings in the previous two years. Since then, shares have risen 49% and sales rose 7.9% to £940m in the year to May 2014.

McDonald has a pretty strong track record herself, though, having transformed McDonald’s from a hated American import to a stalwart of Britain’s high streets and retail parks and helping to drive 36 quarters of consecutive sales growth. She joined as UK marketing boss in 2006, after 16 years at British Airways, and took over from Steve Easterbrook, who is now CEO of the whole shebang, in 2010.

Now, as McDonald’s head in north-west Europe, which includes Scandinavia and Germany, she leads some 3,300 owned and franchised restaurants with more than 200,000 staff. Halfords has just 11,000 staff in 468 stores by comparison.

Read more - McDonald's CEO Jill McDonald: 'McJob is insulting, it really hits my button'

Last July, McDonald told MT she was very happy in her role and was planning to stay at least ‘a few more years’. However, towards the end of last year a source told MT McDonald’s top team was trying to persuade her to join them Stateside, but she didn’t want to leave or move her family. Halfords, it seems, was more persuasive.

‘We were clear that we were looking for an outstanding business leader, particularly someone who had built and nurtured a culture of customer service and colleague engagement in a consumer facing business,’ its chairman Dennis Millard said. ‘So we are delighted to have recruited Jill.’

Shareholders weren’t quite so ecstatic, though: shares were down 0.35% to 451.9p in mid-morning trading. Retail analyst Nick Bubb described the appointment as ‘a real "left-field" choice’. ‘ The Halfords job seems a bit of a step-down,’ he said. ‘Although Jill McDonald brings a lot of knowledge of customer service issues, how much she knows about cars and bikes remains to be seen.’

Davies was known to pedal Boardman bikes around the Lake District, but we’ll have to wait and see whether McDonald will also be reveal herself to be a cycling nut.

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