Is Morrisons, the Yorkshire-based supermarket known for its traditional ways, ready to surprise the market again and appoint a woman as its new CEO?

The board shocked the City and the industry in 2006, when it appointed a rank outsider in Dutch Heineken executive Marc Bolland as the successor to founder Sir Ken Morrison.

But with Bolland unexpectedly quitting to become Marks & Spencer's new CEO in the new year, Asda FD Judith McKenna has emerged as an early favourite to take over.

McKenna had previously been tipped as a future successor to Andy Bond at Asda, but the Dutchman's defection to M&S could speed her path to the top, according to several industry sources.

Her star has risen at Asda in the past four years, as she has been credited with delivering £200m of cost savings. She is also understood to spend more time in stores than many other FDs. A number of senior retailers, including the CEO of a rival big four multiple, tipped her as a serious candidate.

The new boss will need to come with grocery experience, said former BRC and Safeway director Kevin Hawkins. "Bolland was the right man at the time to deliver a turnaround," he said. "But now, as it looks to deliver a new strategy to continue this growth, it will need someone with real grocery expertise."

With non-food and online as obvious growth areas, Morrisons is more likely to look to a rival company that already operates in these markets, he added. This would seem to rule out an internal candidate such as FD Richard Pennycook or store operations director Mark Gunter.

As well as the usual suspects (see p12), two senior grocers currently out of work are former Aldi boss Paul Foley and ex-Somerfield MD Paul Mason. Foley spoke to The Grocer this week, but although he said he was working on some exciting projects, he refused to comment on speculation linking him with the job.

A source close to Mason, who was also previously Asda MD, said he had the necessary non-food and clothing experience the retailer would be looking for.

Other former grocers could also include ex-Tesco execs John Browett (DSG) and David Wild (Halfords).

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