david potts

In a week of upheaval at the HQs of the UK’s supermarkets, Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips was the most high-profile ­casualty and speculation is rife as to who will ­succeed him.

Former Tesco Asia boss David Potts has emerged as the bookies’ favourite after Andrew Higginson - who will take over as Morrisons chairman on 22 January - indicated he was looking for an experienced retailer and ruled out the possibility of an internal candidate.

“We will cast the net fairly widely,” Higginson said. “It’s not a job for someone with L-plates, and the best candidate will need the experience to restore trading momentum.”

Higginson, himself a former Tesco executive who came to prominence during the Sir Terry Leahy era, joked he “won’t be calling Phil” in a reference to former Tesco boss Philip Clarke, but expectations are rising he could seek to reconnect with his Tesco past by bringing in Potts. During the week, Potts’ odds at Ladbrokes shortened from 5/1 to 10/11.

Aldi’s Matthew Barnes, promoted in November to the newly created role of UK CEO, is 5/1 second-favourite. 

Another experienced retailer who would seem to fit Higginson’s bill is Ian McLeod, commercial director at Australia’s Wesfarmers. The Grocer reported in February the former Asda executive was on a shortlist to replace Justin King as Sainsbury’s CEO, and would be open to a return to the UK if the right job came up. McLeod is among a number of potential candidates at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.

Despite rising speculation about Potts, one senior grocery supplier source suggested rather than looking to Tesco for a potential successor to Philips, Higginson might go to Poundland, of which he was chairman until his move to Morrisons last summer. The source suggested Poundland trading director Richard Lancaster as a potential outside bet.

Before joining Poundland, Lancaster was senior trading director for ambient and, ­latterly, marketing director at Morrisons. Lancaster was also previously MD of Netto in the UK, which would give him valuable discounter experience as Morrisons prepares to fight back against Aldi and Lidl.

Lancaster’s current boss, Poundland CEO Jim McCarthy, is currently 10/1 with the bookies.

Higginson has in effect closed the door on an internal appointment. He said the most obvious Morrisons candidate was group CFO Trevor Strain.

But he added Strain was only two years into his current role and six months into a major transformational project. “I think this has come a little too early for Trevor.”

what are the odds