John Apthorp, the chairman of Majestic Wine, yesterday announced his retirement almost 15 years after co-founding the wine warehouse chain.
Simon Burke, the former chairman of Hamleys who spearheaded Permira's recent abortive bid for WH Smith, will replace Mr Apthorp at the company's annual meeting in August. Mr Burke joined Majestic's board as a non-executive director in March 2000.
The announcement sparked speculation that Mr Apthorp may seek to sell down his family's 42 per cent shareholding in Majestic. He has sold shares only once since the company floated on AIM in 1996. Shares in Majestic, which have more than tripled over the past three years, slipped 5p to 278.5p.
The news of Mr Apthorp's departure accompanied a strong Christmas trading update. The company unveiled like-for-like sales growth of 10.4 per cent for the nine weeks to 3 January. This bettered its performance last year when underlying sales climbed 7.4 per cent.
Tim How, the chief executive, said sales were boosted by strong demand for wines from Bordeaux, Italy, Chile and New Zealand. A 15 per cent-off promotion drove demand for wines from Italy and Chile. "Champagne sales grew strongly. We are delighted with our sales performance over the Christmas period," Mr How said.
The strong numbers prompted profit upgrades from analysts at Numis Securities, who expect the company to make £13.4m in pre-tax profits against their earlier expectations of £13m. They edged their 2006 numbers higher as well, to £15.1m from £14.5m.
Iain McDonald, at Numis, said: "These results should be viewed as exceptional considering that they are up against some very strong historic comparisons."
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