Veteran supermarket boss Ken Morrison today outlined plans to stand down as chairman of the Morrisons chain in January 2008.
Morrison, 74, disclosed his departure date after 40 years at the helm as pressure mounted on him to announce a public timetable for his succession while the company also carries out a search for a new chief executive.
Morrison, who has been chairman of Morrisons since 1967, announced his intentions as the supermarket revealed a 6% increase in like-for-like sales in the 16 weeks to May 21.
he has been criticised for his slowness in appointing a new chief executive to replace current incumbent Bob Stott.
It is understood that a number of directors, including deputy chairman David Jones, thought that the hunt for a new chief executive was being thwarted by the lack of commitment from Morrison to stand down from the company his father founded in 1899 within a defined timeframe.
According to reports, the directors felt that the three shortlisted candidates to succeed Mr Stott were unlikely to accept the position for fear that Sir Ken would interfere with strategic decisions.
On the shortlist are Alliance UniChem chief executive Ian Meakins, Heineken chief operating officer Marc Bolland and president of Wal-Mart Germany David Wild. Reports today said Mr Meakins and Mr Bolland are the frontrunners.
In a statement to shareholders ahead of today’s annual general meeting, Morrison said there would be a “firm announcement” over the new chief executive “within the next two to three weeks”.
He added: “I have been chairman of the company since it floated in 1967 but have today informed the board of my current intention to retire as chairman and a director of Morrisons by the end of the next financial year in January 2008.
“The board has invited me to become life president following my retirement.”
The London market has long wanted a clear plan of succession to Sir Ken, whose reputation took a knock from the problems of integrating Safeway following its £3bn (€4.4bn) takeover last year.
Although the acquisition of Safeway gave Morrisons 5.5 million new customers, it was dogged by problems in distribution, administration and IT.