Marks & Spencer has been busy in the executive jobs market of late as it looks to move ahead with its transformation programme, but its latest hire may ultimately prove to be the most significant of all.

Helen Milford will join from Sainsbury’s Argos in May as retail director responsible for all M&S stores and will bring with her a wealth of experience in-store management that has also included long spells with Boots and Asda.

Milford’s route into the retail sector was via a degree in pharmacy, which saw her land a job as a pharmacist with Boots in 1988. Three years later she moved into store management before leaving Boots in 1999 to join Asda as a store manager.

During 12 years with the grocer, Milford climbed the ranks via roles in internal communications and customer service to ultimately head up Asda’s stores in the south of England. She joined Argos as stores director in 2016 before assuming her current role as director of retail in 2018.

Milford, who will report into M&S’s retail, operations and property director Sacha Berendji, is known for being a strong, adaptable retail operator with a particular skill for representing the views of store staff in the boardroom.

She is passionate about staff development, encouraging people to make retail a career choice and is also regarded as a champion for diversity. During her time at Asda, Milford was an ambassador for the retailer’s Women in Leadership programme and was elected to join the Walmart president’s Global Council of Women Leaders.

Milford is known for being a strong, adaptable retail operator with a particular skill for representing the views of store staff in the boardroom

Milford already has an influential advocate at M&S in the form of food boss Stuart Machin who worked with her at Asda between 2005 and 2007. Machin is known to be a big supporter of Milford and is seen as key in tempting her away from Sainsbury’s Argos.

M&S, as has been well reported, is undergoing a store rationalisation strategy in a bid to improve productivity with 120 full-line stores due to close by 2022. Milford’s appointment sits squarely with its priority to build a store estate that’s fit for the future with a razor-sharp focus on the retail basics of trading and execution along with greater digital integration.

It’s no secret that M&S’s digital transformation has been slower than some of its competitors; in this respect, Milford’s experience with a leading digital retailer like Argos can only be a huge asset.

As a keen Sunderland FC fan, Milford knows how hard it can be for a great institution to keep up with the times. M&S is in a stronger position to tackle the challenges ahead of it with her on its team.