As Spar begins the search for a new MD, Musgrave GB already has one in Donal Horgan. Why has he been parachuted in, asks Beth Phillips

It's not just the supermarkets that have seen a management shake-up this year. In the space of two days last week, two of the biggest symbol groups announced a change of leadership.

On Wednesday, Spar UK MD Jerry Marwood announced he would step down in early summer 2011. Two days later, Phil Smith, MD of Musgrave Retail Partners GB, which owns Budgens and Londis, left following a board reshuffle at its Irish parent company Musgrave Group. He has also since resigned as chairman of the FWD.

The timing of the departures may have been a coincidence but the departures come as a shock to a sector renowned for its stability at the top. Indeed Smith, who joined Musgrave GB in June 2007, was the newest face among the leading indie CEOs. So what's happened?

A nine-year veteran at Spar UK, Marwood is understood to want to spend more time with his family rather than juggling his work, based in Harrow, and his home life in the south west.

Highly respected, and with the business in good shape, the only question concerns Marwood's successor: he has promised "a managed transition will take place" by mid-summer 2011. On the other hand, an internal candidate is not immediately obvious, especially after retail director Peter Miller was not replaced when he left, suddenly, earlier this year.

The manoeuvring at Musgrave GB has been altogether more swift and decisive. When Musgrave Group released details of a boardroom reshuffle Smith's name was not even mentioned.

He has been replaced by Donal Horgan, a Musgrave veteran who moves across from his role as MD of SuperValu and Centra in the Republic of Ireland. "Horgan led the development of SuperValu and Centra into two of Ireland's best-known retail brands," says a Musgrave Group spokeswoman. "He will be using his extensive knowledge of the Musgrave business experience in growing world-class brands to the benefit of the Budgens and Londis brands."

Ironically, in terms of sales, Budgens and Londis have performed better than SuperValu and Centra according to Musgrave Group's annual report to 31 December 2009, SuperValu sales fell 5%, with Centra sales down 4%. In contrast, Budgens sales were up 10% and Londis sales up 3%.

However, SuperValu and Centra's performance is in the particularly tough economic climate in Ireland, and with the market down 7% overall, according to Musgrave, the two fascias are actually performing ahead of the average. By contrast, sources say the UK business has been drifting.

"The restructure looks as if it has been planned for a while," says one senior industry source. "If trading isn't to Ireland's expectation, it may feel more comfortable with one of its own safe pairs of hands."

Budgens and Londis will be tougher than Ireland, warns another source. Musgrave GB is losing stores to ­rival symbols. Store numbers fell 3.6% last year from 2,037 to 1,963 ­[The Grocery Retail Structure 2010] with high-profile defections including Jonathan James, a Budgens retailer who switched some stores to Spar.

As well as defections, there have also been two high-profile depatures at board level. Sales director Andrew Mounsey left in June last year, followed by marketing director Jemima Bird in December.

"By bringing in one of its own, Musgrave is trying to stabilise the GB business, get some retail engagement under way and drive forward its business strategy," a source adds. "So Musgrave can focus on a crippling Irish economy without worrying about GB."

Who’s in, out and off
IN: Donal Horgan. A highly respected Musgrave Group veteran, Horgan joined in 1997 as finance and logistics director and in 2004 was promoted to the group board as MD of SuperValu and Centra.

OUT: Phil Smith. Smith has worked in commercial and marketing roles at Kraft Foods, Kwik Save and Somerfield. He joined Musgrave GB as MD in June 2007 from Camelot Group where he was commercial and operations director. His departure was announced last Friday.

OFF: Jerry Marwood. Appointed Spar MD in May 2002, Marwood was made chair of the Association of Convenience Stores in 2007. He plans to quit next summer.