Primark's founder Arthur Ryan is to step down as chief executive from tomorrow as Paul Marchant, the discount fashion retailer's chief operating officer, is promoted to the role.
While Mr Ryan will stay on as chairman, Mr Marchant – who joined Primark in January after serving as COO of its rival New Look – will take over the day-to-day running of the retail chain owned by Associated British Foods.
The timing of when Mr Ryan, 74, steps down has been the subject of feverish speculation for years. He has been the driving force behind Primark's success since its first store opened in Dublin, as Penneys, in 1969. This week, ABF said Primark's profits for the year to 12 September would be "well ahead" of last year's adjusted operating profit of £233m. The group's 191 stores delivered a 9 per cent increase in like-for-like sales during the second half.
Mr Ryan said yesterday: "I am extremely proud of all that Primark has achieved. As chairman, I am looking forward to working with Paul to ensure the ongoing success and future development of the business."
Relatively little is known about Mr Ryan outside ABF. He has not given a press interview since the 1970s. This is understood to be partly due to his fear of being kidnapped after the IRA tried to seize ABF's Galen Weston in 1983.
Sue Shipley, the head of global retail practice at the City of London headhunter Odgers Berndtson, said: "[Mr Ryan] is one of the last great retailers. He is an instinctive retailer, whose understanding of the consumer is not to be underestimated. He is a trader in every sense of the word and has a fantastic eye for product."
John Bason, ABF's finance director, said Mr Ryan's legacy would be "the Primark model". Of the founder's character, he added: "He has got a big personality – he is not a man of few words – and is an exciting person to be around. This comes from his energy and passion for the business. He is a great dinner guest, who has plenty of jokes, anecdotes and is full of life."
Primark has stores in the UK, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland, where it trades as Penneys. It plans to enter Belgium, with a store in Liège, and Austria next year.
Mr Marchant described Primark's chief executive role as "one of the most exciting in international retail" and said he looked forward to building on the company's success to date.