Blow to Halfords as chief quitsfor million-pound job in Australia

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The Independent Online

Halfords suffered a blow yesterday with the resignation of its highly respected chief executive, Ian McLeod, who is to join his former boss at Asda, Archie Norman, at the Australian retail group Wesfarmers.

Mr McLeod will leave the bike-to-car parts retailer at the end of February to move to Melbourne and a near million-pound salary. He will be in charge of turning around the struggling supermarkets chain Coles.

Halfords has appointed The Miles partnership to conduct an internal and external search for a successor and installed the finance director, Nick Wharton, and trading director, Paul McClenaghan, as acting joint managing directors in the interim.

Halfords' chairman, Richard Pym, said he was "very disappointed" by Mr McLeod's departure, but added "he leaves Halfords in extremely good shape".

The group, which has sold parts since 1892, when it opened a hardware store in Birmingham, yesterday reported a 2 per cent rise in like-for-like sales in the 17 weeks to 25 January. This was lower than analysts' expectations, and the group put it down to a challenging comparison following an exceptional autumn in 2006, when a change in the law led to a boom in child-seat sales. Adjusting for the impact of child seats, like-for-like sales came in at 3.2 per cent, the company said.

Shares fell 3 per cent, down 9p to 270.25p.

The group launched its "Reserve on line, collect in store" service ahead of Christmas, which hastaken 100,000 orders, Mr McLeod said.

He added that although the company was not immune from a consumer slowdown, it benefited from being a niche retailer, with average selling prices at £20. Furthermore, a renaissance in cycling across the country had boosted sales.

Mr McLeod, 49, said he was looking forward to the challenges his new job would present, but he said the decision to leave had not been an easy one.

"It has been a privilege to be part of the Halfords transition from private ownership to an independently listed company once again, and then continue to build our financial performance and market position year after year," he said.

Mr Norman, who is known for his turnaround at Asda, had been advising Wesfarmers on its takeover bid for Coles, which it bought last year. Mr McLeod's salary will jump from the £375,000 he receives at Halfords to £914,000 plus bonus in his new role.

Andrew Wade, research analyst at Seymour Pierce, said Mr McLeod had done "an excellent job at Halfords and will undoubtedly be missed".