It is understood that the company has agreed basic terms with an external candidate, which will again dash the hopes of Robbie Burns, who was widely tipped to get the job.
Mr Burns, who runs NFC's core logistics business, was passed over last time in favour of Mr Sherlock. Observers believed Mr Burns was likely to succeed after the failure of the experiment of appointing an outsider in the shape of Mr Sherlock, who joined from Bass.
There will be now be question marks over Mr Burns's future at the group, as he resigned at one point last year before reversing his decision following Mr Sherlock's departure.
Mr Sherlock instituted a strategic review, merging the group's two principal subidiaries and concentrating efforts on higher value-added business.
But he left NFC after only 18 months. At the time, it was widely believed that his aggressive approach to change was incompatible with the group's traditionally paternalistic culture.
NFC was the first big employee buyout and was held up as a template for employee participation.
Sir Peter Thompson, who led the employee buyout, subsequently became chairman of Proshare, the City group that campaigns for wider share ownership, and while Mr Sherlock was chief executive he criticised publicly the company's direction. He was understood to be keen to transform NFC into a public company run on more conventional lines. His departure shocked the City, which saw him as a dynamic new force in a company whose growth was slowing. In what was a strong stock market, NFC's shares f ell 15p to 185p on the announcement.
The new chief executive will complete the top team at the boardroom table, joining Sir Christopher Bland, who took over as chairman in December following the retirement of James Watson.Reuse content