Archie Norman steps down early as Asda's chairman

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ARCHIE NORMAN confirmed yesterday that he will step down as chairman of Asda with immediate effect. He will stay on as an adviser until next June and retain his annual salary of pounds 200,000.

Mr Norman agreed to stay on for a couple of months following Wal-Mart's pounds 6.7bn takeover of Asda in June. But with the first phase of the integration complete he has decided to step down early. The move will allow Mr Norman to spend more time on his other business interests, which include his investment in Knutsford, a tiny shell company he took a stake in last week.

His decision to invest in Knutsford, along with three other high-profile entrepreneurs, ignited speculation that he is looking to return to the retail fray with a takeover of a struggling giant like Marks & Spencer or J Sainsbury.

However, Mr Norman was circumspect yesterday: "I have no plans to take on any major commitments. I want to concentrate on my public life. I've got plenty of things to do. I won't exactly be twiddling my thumbs."

Mr Norman, who is Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, reflected fondly on his time at Asda. "I feel a huge emotional attachment to Asda but as the business moves into a new era it is time to move on," he said.

Allan Leighton, Asda's chief executive, said: "It is almost eight years to the day since Archie joined the business when it was in its darkest hour. Thanks to his incredible leadership we have moved from very nearly down and out to one of Britain's top retailers."

Mr Norman repeated that Knutsford had not identified any potential takeover targets. "It is much more important to find the right deal than to rush."

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, yesterday revealed that like-for-like sales at Asda stores rose at "a high single-digit percentage rate" in the three months to the end of October.