Mr Higginson, 40, finance director of Burton which recently announced de-merger plans, will not join Tesco until 15 November.
Tesco said the appointment would enable David Reid, deputy chairman, to give more focus to corporate strategy as well as the group's operations in Europe and Ireland. Mr Reid's responsibilities include finance and distribution.
Analysts welcomed the appointment, saying Mr Higginson had performed well at Burton and had a high-profile role as chairman of the economic affairs committee at the British Retail Consortium.
He will be replaced at Burton by Nigel Hall, who was appointed to the board yesterday though he will not take up the finance director role until November. Mr Hall, 42, has been at Burton since 1984 and has most recently been finance director of the multiples business which includes Burton Menswear, Top Shop, Top Man and Principles.
The company denied Mr Higginson's departure would disrupt the plans to de-merge Debenhams from the group.
John Hoerner, chief executive, said that while it was a disappointment to be losing Mr Higginson, he was not leaving until November, by which most of the work on the de-merger would be complete.
Mr Hall was recently made director of the de-merger process with responsibility for overall management of the commercial and statutory work. Mr Hoerner said: "Nigel Hall was actually someone I was going to lose in the de-merger because I didn't have a good enough job for him."
Former Tesco chairman Lord MacLaurin said in April that the company was looking to add further directors to its board. Mr Higginson will join one of the country's most successful and aggressive retailers. Tesco has knocked Sainsbury's off its perch to become the UK's largest grocer. The group has expanded into banking as well as operations in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Ireland.
Mr Higginson has played an important part in Burton's recovery over the last few years during which it has re-built margins and transformed Debenhams into a powerful department store business.
However, the shares have had a tougher time recently and the company announced plans to de-merge Debenhams into a separate quoted company last month.
Tesco shares closed 3p higher at 430.5p while Burton shed 1.5p to 128.25p.