Andy Bond, the president and chief executive of Asda, surprised the grocery world yesterday by revealing that he is stepping down after 16 years at Britain's second-biggest supermarket.
However, Mr Bond, 45, said he would take on the newly created role of part-time chairman to ensure a smooth handover to the next chief executive, whom the Wal-Mart-owned company "hoped" to unveil within weeks.
Mr Bond insisted it was his decision to step down, saying: "It is nothing more complicated or sinister. I have not fallen out with anyone within the business."
The chief executive's decision to quit comes ahead of an investor relations day on Thursday, when he is scheduled to give an update to City analysts and shareholders. His departure means two of the UK's biggest grocers will soon be run by new chief executives, given that Dalton Philips joined Morrisons last month following Marc Bolland's defection to Marks & Spencer.
A timeframe for how long Mr Bond will remain chairman, a role requiring three days' work a week, is unclear but this is likely to be reviewed once the new chief executive is established.
Mr Bond said: "My prime obligation is to find, recruit and develop another chief executive... I will have some other responsibilities within Wal-Mart that are not for this conversation. Beyond that I will have some breathing space to develop some of my own ideas which relate to going plural rather than another big chief executive job."
Mr Bond said this might involve "giving something back", such as charitable work, or an "entrepreneurial" role.
Wal-Mart has a tradition of hiring from within and Mr Bond said yesterday there would be internal candidates from both Wal-Mart and Asda, although external candidates would also be considered.
His decision to step down comes after a testing start to the year for Asda. According to closely watched market data, its sales growth has slipped behind that of Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury's.
But Mr Bond compared Asda's performance so far in 2010 to Manchester United foot ball club, saying: "It is a brand with extremely good heritage but every now and then we lose a game, but it does not make us anything other than a great team."
He added: "If you take the last three years, Asda's market share growth is greater than anyone else's."
Mr Bond became chief executive in 2005 when Asda had somewhat lost its way. Clive Black, an analyst at Shore Capital, said: "[He] has, to our minds, been a demonstrable success at Asda. His work in charge of the George brand and subsequently how he has taken the business on since being overall leader deserves much acclaim; indeed in early 2009 we rarely felt that Asda stores had been in a better groove.
"[But] it is therefore surprising to us that Asda's trade has slowed down in recent months. Has there been some internal disharmony?"
After taking an MBA at Cranfield in 1993, Mr Bond joined Asda as a marketing manager a year later and rose through the ranks to become Asda's chief operating officer in 2004.
Race for Asda job: The runners and riders
* Judith McKenna joined Asda in 1996 and became chief financial officer in 2001. She could become the first female boss of a UK big-four grocer.
* Dave Cheesewright became chief executive of Wal-Mart Canada in February 2008 after leaving his role as chief operating officer at Asda. He was pivotal in helping to turn around the Asda's performance from 2005.
* Jack Sinclair is Wal-Mart's head of grocery merchandise. He has also held roles at Tesco and Safeway.
* Andy Clarke was named Asda's chief operating officer last year.Reuse content