Sir Ronnie, who joined ICI in 1955 as a commercial trainee, will step down in April next year to be replaced as chairman by ICI's chief executive, Charles Miller Smith, who joined the group from Unilever two years ago.
At the same time, ICI is bringing in a senior executive from the newly formed drinks giant Diageo, Brendan O'Neill, as chief operating officer. Mr O'Neill, who is presently chief executive of Guinness, the brewing arm of Diageo, will be groomed to take up the vacant chief executive's post at ICI.
The boardroom changes demonstrate the way ICI's corporate culture and management structure are being over- hauled to mirror its transformation from a bulk chemicals business into one focused on consumer brands such as paint and speciality chemicals.
In the space of the last year ICI has raised pounds 3.7bn from disposals, selling large parts of its industrial chemicals and tioxide businesses to Du Pont of the US, and has completed the pounds 4.7bn acquisition of Unilever's speciality chemicals division, which makes products such as starches and food flavourings.
Both Mr Miller Smith and Mr O'Neill have strong backgrounds in marketing and consumer brands. Mr O'Neill is the first main board director to quit Diageo, the drinks Goliathcreated last month with the pounds 23bn merger of Grand Metropolitan and Guinness.
He joined Guinness 10 years ago as a financial controller in the wake of the share support scandal and was promoted to head up the brewing business five years ago. There he transformed the black stout into a powerful international brand, opening Guinness pubs from China to Iceland, expanding its UK market share and introducing Kilkenny, a new Irish ale. A spokesman for Diageo said: "This is a sad day but when somebody is offered a job like the head of ICI it is hard to refuse."
Colin Storm, the deputy chief executive of Guinness Brewing, has been named as Mr O'Neill's successor.
Sir Ronnie, who became chief executive of ICI in 1993 following the Zeneca demerger and chairman two years later, said: "ICI is a totally different animal from what it was five years ago.... We have now put in place a management team that will carry ICI forward for the next 10 years."
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