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Asda CEO to relinquish post and take on new role

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LEEDS, England — Andy Bond, president and chief executive officer of Asda PLC, will give up the position to become chairman of the retailer’s executive committee, a part-time role.

Andy Bond, president and chief executive officer of Asda PLC, will give up the position to become chairman of the retailer’s executive committee, a part-time role.

No successor has been named, but Asda’s parent company, Walmart, announced that it would appoint a new CEO soon and that it would consider candidates from both within and outside the company.

A 16-year Asda veteran, Bond assumed the reins five years ago at a time when the chain was facing tough competitive challenges and was roiled by ongoing executive departures (it had four CEOs in five years after Walmart acquired the chain) and plunging morale after 1,400 jobs were eliminated. He led a rebound that culminated in Asda’s best financial performance ever in 2009, exceeding all targets despite continuing economic doldrums in the United Kingdom.

“I’m very proud to have led Asda for the past five years and helped it find a new confidence to serve its customers better,” said Bond in a statement. “We have a strong leadership team that’s fully engaged in the business, and I’m looking forward to working with the new CEO to build upon the foundation we’ve put in place for continued success.”

During Walmart’s fourth quarter conference call in February, Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart International, paid tribute to Asda’s performance, noting that the company ended the year with its highest U.K. market share ever and operating income growth that exceeded sales growth.

Comparable-store sales rose a solid 6% in 2009, driven by both increased customer traffic and higher average transactions.

However, Asda’s sales growth decelerated during the fourth quarter as heavy snowfall and intensive promotions by other supermarket chains took their toll, and the retailer has not yet regained momentum thus far in 2010. Moreover, according to the retail research and consulting firm Kantar Worldpanel, Asda saw its U.K. supermarket share slip to 17.1% from 17.3% during the 12 weeks ended on March 21 and was the only one of the top four British supermarket chains to lose share.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Bond said that Asda had allowed itself to become too promotional last year and would return to its traditional everyday-low-price strategy.

He also dismissed suggestions that his unexpected departure signaled a falling out with Walmart management, pointing out that he would not have taken the chairman’s role had that been the case. Instead, he said, he wants to pursue other career opportunities.

In any case, Bond’s departure was generally regretted by analysts, who were taken by surprise.

Speculation over who might take the reins at Asda began immediately. Among those within Walmart and Asda who are considered contenders are David Cheese­wright, former chief operating officer of Asda and currently CEO of Walmart Canada; Jack Sinclair, who now heads up Walmart’s grocery business in the U.S. but who joined the company from the U.K. grocery chain Safeway PLC after its acquisition; Andy Clarke, Asda’s current COO; Asda director of finance Judith McKenna; and Darren Blackhurst, Asda’s trading director.

Whoever winds up in the position will have to contend with the limited growth prospects in the highly mature U.K. market. In February Bond revealed plans to open smaller-format food stores, possibly as many as 100 in the next three to five years. The stores will not be convenience outlets, but will instead offer a full shopping trip.

In addition, the retailer is looking outside the grocery arena for growth opportunities. Plans call for ramping up the rollout of its nongrocery Asda Living stores. There have also been rumors that Asda might acquire Home Retail Group, which operates the Argos and Homebase general merchandise chains.


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