Marks and Spencer’s clothing chief has quit just weeks ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period.
Retail veteran Jo Jenkins, director of M&S’s clothing and beauty division, is to leave the retailer to become chief executive of lifestyle brand White Stuff.
Her departure will be seen as a setback for M&S boss Steve Rowe, who has made turning around the ailing womenswear division a priority. This month, he drafted in former Halfords chief executive Jill McDonald as managing director of clothing, home and beauty to lead the turnaround.
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That raised a few eyebrows when it was first announced in May, given her lack of experience in the sector. It is understood that Jenkins, who was director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty, was disappointed not to get the job.
Her departure will leave Rowe and McDonald with a hole to fill as they seek to win back shoppers amid fierce competition.
Clothing has long been a problem for the company, which has seen sales in its general merchandise division fall five years in a row amid criticism of its fashion ranges.
The firm, which scrapped 27 promotions, was given a glimmer of hope over the summer after weaning shoppers off sales, fuelling a 7 per cent growth in clothing sold at full price.
But now analysts fear the departure of Jenkins will undo recent progress.
Connor Campbell, analyst at Spreadex, said: ‘Going into Christmas, this isn’t a good sign.
He added: ‘It seems like M&S is struggling to find something that sticks in the clothing division and finding it difficult to turn around its image as a slightly older-aimed clothing company.’
M&S downplayed the departure, saying it ‘won’t leave us with a gaping hole.’ It is understood Jenkins will stay with M&S for a ‘couple of months’ as she serves out her notice period.
Jenkins began her career as a range selector at M&S in 1987, before serving 15 years as Next’s womenswear product director.
She returned to M&S in 2013 as director of lingerie and beauty, and was promoted to director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty two years later.
M&S said: ‘We’re delighted for Jo. Becoming chief executive at a company like White Stuff is a natural next step for her. We wish her all the very best with her new role.’
White Stuff sells women’s and men’s clothing and accessories and has more than 100 shops in the UK.
John Lewis shake-up
The development director of John Lewis Partnership is leaving the business in the spring of next year.
Tom Athron was tipped to head the department store chain following the departure of long-time boss Andy Street but he lost out to Paula Nickolds.
He has been with the partnership since 2005 and held a variety of roles, including finance director of Waitrose.
Athron has also been pivotal in pushing John Lewis’s expansion into home services.
Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said: ‘We wish him every success.’