Leighton quits as Wal-Mart chief for 'a lifestyle change'

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The Independent Online

Allan Leighton, one of Britain's most highly regarded retail managers, is to leave Wal-Mart, barely a year after he steered Asda into a £6.7bn takeover by the US retail giant.

Allan Leighton, one of Britain's most highly regarded retail managers, is to leave Wal-Mart, barely a year after he steered Asda into a £6.7bn takeover by the US retail giant.

Mr Leighton, 47, who has been widely touted as a potential chief executive for Marks & Spencer, the troubled stores group, insisted yesterday that the decision to quit Wal-Mart was "a lifestyle change" and that he had no big job lined up.

"I've been thinking about this for two or three months. I've only been involved with two companies in my life. If I was going to go for a big job as CEO it would be here," he said. "I don't want to do a CEO's job that is full-time. I have gone for an idea which is to work a full week but to do four or five things."

He joined Asda in 1992 as group marketing director after 18 years at Mars, the confectionery group. Following the Asda takeover, which gave Wal-Mart the bridgehead it had long sought into the UK, Mr Leighton, then Asda chief executive, was given the title of president and CEO for Wal-Mart Europe. That post, which includes responsibility for Wal-Mart's German operations, will now be taken over by Dave Ferguson, an in-house appointee who is credited with having engineered a similar turnaround at Wal-Mart's Canadian operation as Mr Leighton achieved at Asda in the UK.

Industry analysts queried whether a man as ambitious as Mr Leighton was likely to be satisfied with the clutch of non-executive directorships as his main outside business interests. As well as the M&S job, it is thought that he was in the running for British Airways, which recently appointed Rod Eddington, head of Ansett, the Australian airline, as chief executive. However, Mr Leighton insisted: "Am I going to be the chief executive of M&S? No. Am I going to turn around and put a bid together for M&S? No. Next week I can watch Leeds United in Barcelona. My daughter has just graduated. There could not have been a better time." Mr Leighton is a non-executive director of Leeds Sporting, the holding company for Leeds United - Asda's local football team, BSkyB, the satellite television group, and is non-executive chairman of Wilson Connolly, the housebuilder.

There will be no pay-off and Mr Leighton will not be exercising his Wal-Mart share options. Wal-Mart dismissed suggestions that his decision may have been prompted by any bust-up. Mr Leighton has agreed to stay on for a few months to "assist the management transition". There have also been reports of friction between Wal-Mart's bureaucracy in the US and Mr Leighton, whose maverick style was said to jar with its more strait-laced culture.

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