The founder of Primark is to step down as managing director in September when Paul Marchant, the chain's chief operating officer, will become chief executive of Associated British Food's discount fashion retailer.
Arthur Ryan, who is also Primark's chairman, is expected to stay on for a period to chair the retailer before retiring. An announcement is expected around the middle of September, when AB Foods' financial year ends. ABF declined to comment yesterday.
The date of Mr Ryan stepping down as managing director has been the source of speculation in the sector for several years, partly as he is in his seventies, but also because of his huge influence on Primark since it opened its first store in Dublin in 1969.
Mr Marchant, who joined Primark in 2008 from New Look, where he was also chief operating officer, has been hotly tipped to become chief executive.
As part of a wider management shake-up, Primark has a search out for a heavyweight finance executive with the City headhunter Odgers Berndtson. But it is unclear if that person would succeed Patrick Prior, the current finance director. The retailer, which has 190 stores, is also seeking an international trading director after Guy Young, whom it poached in 2008 from rival C&A, quit this month.
Speculation has also centred on two other long-standing servants of Primark – the human resources director, Breege O'Donoghue, and the deputy managing director, Seamus Halford – but it is understood they plan to remain at Primark for a number of years.
For the 16 weeks to 20 June, the retailer's sales surged by 21 per cent. While ABF did not reveal like-for-like sales, City analysts put the figure at growth of 7 to 8 per cent.
Primark has stores in the UK, Ireland – where it trades as Penneys – Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany. It plans to enter Belgium, with a store in Liège, in November and launch in Austria next year.