Tesco's commercial director for fresh foods Colin Holmes has become the first senior executive to quit the retailer in the wake of Sir Terry Leahy's decision to retire next March and the appointment of Philip Clarke as his successor.
Holmes handed in his resignation a day after Sir Terry's announcement, ruining Tesco's hopes of executing a textbook succession. The retailer denied Holmes was leaving because he did not get the top job, however.
"I spoke to Colin myself yesterday and he tells me he made the decision months ago before Terry announced his intention to retire," said a spokesman.
Nevertheless, Holmes was understood to have been in the running to replace Sir Terry as CEO and speculation that his decision to quit is related to his not getting the job is inevitable.
His move will also fuel speculation over the future of other senior executives who were passed over, even though Tesco initially received considerable praise this week for appearing to have secured the loyalty of most of its top team with promotions and extra responsibilities.
As well as becoming deputy CEO, Tim Mason, president and CEO of the Fresh & Easy business in the US, has been given the additional group responsibility for branding, Tesco's values and climate change. Commercial director Richard Brasher has been given the role of CEO of the UK business with responsibility for the Republic of Ireland, and retail and logistics director David Potts is to become the first CEO of Tesco's Asian business.
However, retail services CEO Andrew Higginson and FD Laurie McIlwee, who had also been touted as possible CEOs in waiting, have not had any changes to their roles.
Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan, who spent 14 years at Tesco, said the succession plan was "inspired". "In the same way that Sir Terry has made great judgement calls through his career, he has left Tesco with a final great judgement call," he said. "These are all sensible, pragmatic people who will know that only one person could be chief executive and they will know they are highly valued."
Tesco said Holmes, who has been at the company for 22 years, would stay on until July to make sure there was a smooth handover, and that he was leaving in order to attain a better work-life balance. "We're very sorry to see him go," said the spokesman. "He's played a very important role in developing the business recently as fresh food director. We understand, and wish him well."
Tesco has confirmed a number of appointments to cover Holmes' departure.
Andrew Yaxley, currently commercial director for packaged foods, will take over as commercial director of fresh food.
John Scouler, currently commercial director in Hungary, steps into Yaxley's former role, with dairy category director David Wood moving into the Hungary role.
Sean McCurley, a category director with Fresh & Easy, succeeds Wood, where he will report to Yaxley.
Clarke to take Tesco reins as Sir Terry sets departure date (8 June 2010)
Power List 2010: Power vacuum (22 May 2010)
Editor's Comment: When Sir Terry goes, contrast the succession planning with Morrisons (30 January 2010)