Charlie Mayfield, the 39-year-old managing director of the John Lewis Partnership, is to replace Sir Stuart Hampson as chairman next March.
Mr Mayfield will become only the group's fifth chairman since the first John Lewis opened its doors on Oxford Street when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. His rise up the company has been meteoric since he joined the board six years ago.
Sir Stuart, who is weeks away from his 60th birthday, is stepping down after 14 years at the helm. He said a new chairman would bring "fresh ideas", adding: "The partnership is in sound health in democratic and commercial terms and I consider this an appropriate time to hand over."
Mr Mayfield, a former management consultant, succeeded Luke Mayhew as head of the group's department stores arm two years ago after Mr Mayhew quit abruptly amid rumours he had already been told he would never get the top job.
As executive chairman, Mr Mayfield will add responsibility for Waitrose to his watch, although Steve Esom will continue to run the 184-strong supermarket chain. He will also be responsible for ensuring the "long-term sustainability" of the group's unique partnership model, which has endured since it was founded by John Lewis in 1864.
Mr Mayfield is expected to see his annual pay jump to more than £700,000, from £500,000, which is still modest compared with the sums peers command for running similar-sized retailers that are publicly quoted.
Sir Stuart said speculation over his departure, which comes five years ahead of the partnership's retirement age, had caused "uncertainty [which was] an unwelcome distraction". He is expected to take a long break and go travelling before deciding what role he might take on next. The former president of the Royal Agricultural Society is passionate about farming and the ethics surrounding agriculture. A former civil servant, he began his retail career at 35 as a trainee in the Oxford Street flagship's menswear department. He also rose quickly through the ranks, joining the board four years later.
Mr Mayfield, a former Army officer, shot to prominence in John Lewis after leading the acquisition of buy.com, an electronics online retailer that became the template for the group'ssuccessful internet site.
Despite initial fears John Lewis had overpaid, buying the website gave it a head start over other old-school rivals when it came to e-tailing. The head of buy.com, Phil Hullah, joined John Lewis with the deal and was recently promoted to commercial director.
Mr Mayfield praisedSir Stuart for his "absolute determination to keep the partnership true to its principles of employee ownership whilst remaining a thriving, successful and evolving retail business".
John Lewis's 26-strong department-stores arm has gone from strength to strength in recent months, bucking the trend on the high street to clock up week after week of new sales records. Its website is now second only to its Oxford Street flagship in terms of its contribution to the group. Waitrose has also thrived despite rivals trying to muscle into its niche of selling ethically sourced, high-quality food.Reuse content