Tesco said its recently appointed UK and Ireland boss, Charles Wilson, would step down to a less onerous role, after being diagnosed with throat cancer three months ago.
Mr Wilson, the former chief executive of wholesaler, Booker, which was bought by Tesco in March, had been seen as a potential heir to Tesco chief executive, Dave Lewis.
He was appointed to run Tesco’s largest division only five months ago. Tesco veteran, Jason Tarry, now becomes chief executive of the UK and Republic of Ireland business, reporting to Mr Lewis.
His previous role, as group chief product officer, was handed to Andrew Yaxley, the boss of the Ireland unit. A new Tesco Ireland CEO will be appointed in due course.
Shares in Tesco traded down 1.5% at one stage, as investors responded to what independent retail analyst, Nick Bubb, called “shock news”. However, shares have surged by over 50% in the past year, valuing the retailer at £21.1bn (€23.8bn).
“The highly regarded Charles Wilson is the brains behind Booker and was widely expected to take over from CEO, Dave Lewis, in due course,” he said.
Mr Wilson, 52, has been responding well to radiotherapy and the signs were that the treatment has been successful, Tesco said. He was diagnosed with cancer after an operation to take out his tonsils.
To help ease his workload, Mr Wilson will focus on leading the Booker business and delivering the cost synergies and growth plans from the combination with Tesco.
Mr Wilson will continue to report to Lewis. “Dave and I have agreed these changes to my leadership responsibilities, in the interest of my long-term recovery from throat cancer,” Mr Wilson said.
“I have had the privilege of working closely with Jason and know he will do a brilliant job,” he said.
The reshuffle of Tesco’s top management team comes at a time of change in Britain’s supermarket sector, as Tesco faces losing its long-held number-one spot in the UK to second-ranked Sainsbury’s, which agreed to buy Wal-Mart-owned Asda, the number-three player, in April.
Tesco said the management changes would be effective from July 16.