Halfords in "left-field" swoop for McDonald's UK boss

24 March 2015 -


Bike and car accessories chain lures Jill McDonald to replace Tesco-bound Matt Davies

Jermaine Haughton

The retail sector’s CEO merry-go-round shows no signs of slowing down, with Halfords confirming that it has intercepted the head of UK operations at fast food giant McDonald’s. From May 11, Jill McDonald – presumably no relation – will become one of only 10 women who lead London-listed firms, as she takes over the relay from Matt Davies, who is set to leave for an executive role at beleaguered supermarket Tesco.

Having spent 16 years in a promotional capacity for British Airways before joining McDonald’s as chief marketing officer in 2006, McDonald has carved out a formidable reputation as a brand-management supremo. Just over a year ago, she took on the additional responsibility of the snack brand’s largest European market – Germany – and will now join a growing list of female bosses at listed companies alongside the likes of Dido Harding at Talk Talk, Katherine Garrett-Cox at Alliance Trust and Kate Swann at SSP.

However, culture-fit issues have reared their heads, with the Brighton University graduate being accused of not having a strong affinity with biking – a key part of Halford’s business. Compared to predecessor Matt Davies’ well-known enthusiasm for cycling, which saw him trek around the Lake District on a high-spec Boardman cycle, McDonald reportedly owns only a Halfords entry-level Apollo.

In the view of veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb, McDonald is a “real ‘left-field’ choice” for Halfords, and even went so far as to venture that she had taken a step down from her current role.

As well as those doubts, McDonald will face the pressure of having to match, and eventually excel, the achievements of Davies, who has boosted the company’s share price by 49% since joining in October 2012 and raised sales by 7.9% to £940m in the year up to May 2014.

Credited with reimagining the appearance of McDonald’s UK outlets and introducing healthier food options to customers, McDonald has been hired to further Davies’ legacy of improving Halfords’ staff morale and financial performance. The firm’s chairman Dennis Millard said: “We were looking for somebody who had experience and background in understanding what the consumer needs and somebody from a service industry really gets that. We also wanted someone with a track record in colleague engagement.”

He added: “She has been briefed very heavily on our existing strategy and she buys into that. We are about halfway through the journey from where Matt Davies joined to lead us to be a very high-service business.”

In what amounts to one of the most attractive pay deals to be announced in recent times, McDonald will receive a salary of £500,000, plus up to three times that amount as a bonus and a further £1.5m maximum a year from a long-term share plan. She will also receive £165,000 per a year in company shares for the next three years to compensate her for forfeiting McDonald’s shares when she leaves. Interestingly, Millard revealed that his new chief executive’s salary will not include any specific financial performance targets, because there were none she was required to follow at McDonald’s.

Investec analyst Kate Calvert commented: “Her strong brand marketing and customer service background looks a good match for Halfords where the modernisation and turnaround strategy is well progressed. We expect her to bring her own take and emphasis.”

Rumours that she must now change her name to Jill Halfords are unconfirmed.

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Image of Halfords cycling shirt courtesy of i4lcocl2 / Shutterstock.

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