Alex Gourlay store approved[1]

Holland & Barrett has appointed former Walgreens Boots Alliance co-chief operating officer Alex Gourlay as its new executive chairman.

Gourlay replaces Michael Casey, who will remain as a non-executive board member.

“I have always had huge respect for H&B,” Gourlay said. “It is a much-loved UK institution playing a vital role for health and wellness on an international scale. The opportunity to help it through its next stage of transformation is genuinely exciting.”

A qualified pharmacist, Gourlay was executive VP and co-chief operating officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance until May 2021.

Casey, who has been executive chair since September 2021, is returning to parent company LetterOne to lead a new investment impact business unit, Holland & Barrett said. He first joined the board as a non-executive member in 2017.

“I am very grateful to my team and all of H&B’s colleagues who have worked tirelessly to support millions of customers through the pandemic while also undergoing a technology-led transformation to support each customer’s personal wellness journeys,” Casey said.

Gourlay joins the health food specialist after what has been a challenging year under the ownership of Russian-founded investment company LetterOne, which has owned the business since 2017.

Holland & Barrett publicly distanced itself from LetterOne’s Russian co-founders Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, after the pair were sanctioned by the UK government following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Fridman later stepped down. Holland & Barrett was not subject to any sanctions.

In November, the retailer apologised to suppliers over late payments after government data showed it paid as many as 60% of invoices outside of agreed terms.

On 22 November, The Grocer learned LetterOne had completed a deal to buy back more than £700m in debt, which Holland & Barrett told suppliers left the business “debt-free and capitalised to drive our ambitious transformation programme”.

Founded in 1870, Holland & Barrett has more than 1,000 stores across the UK and globally. 

The company said it had enjoyed “its most successful Christmas trading” for six years in 2022. Gourlay’s first priority will be to deliver on its growth plan, Holland & Barrett said.