Waitrose’s managing director Mark Price is stepping down from his role at the upmarket supermarket chain amid rumours he is being lined up for the top job at Channel 4.
Price has been deputy chairman of broadcaster Channel 4 since 2013 and has been widely tipped to take over as chairman when Lord Burns steps down. In a statement, Price said he was “just at the start of developing” his plans for next year onwards.
"Leading Waitrose has been amazing and I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity; but I've always had in mind that ten years would be about the right length of time to do this. And so I’ve concluded that this is the moment to go and do other things in business, consultancy, writing and lecturing," he said.
Waitrose retail director Rob Collins, who has been with the employee-owned group for 22 years, will take over from Price when he leaves.
JLP chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield praised Price's "long and distinguished career" with the partnership and said his leadership of Waitrose "has seen outstanding success.”
Mayfield added that Collins has been a central figure in Waitrose’s management team for a number of years part of the board's thinking on succession planning for some time: "I'm confident that he will make the step-up to the Managing Director role quickly and effectively.”
Waitrose has added more than 200 stores and seen sales jump by 65 per cent during Price's tenure at the chain thanks to its wealthier middle class clientele. However the retailer has not been immune to the fierce industry price war.
After initially benefitting from the polarisation in the market, Waitrose has also begun to crack under the pressure, with like-for-like sales down by 1.3 per cent in the first half of the year – the first fall in seven years.
Neil Saunders, managing director of retail consultancy Conlumino, said: "As one chapter of Waitrose history closes, another one now opens under the leadership of Rob Collins. The backdrop to the next part of the story is fairly bleak and despite its success Waitrose, like every other grocery retailer, faces enormous challenges. Arguably, the smaller scale of Waitrose provides it with opportunities that elude some of its larger rivals, but it will still need to work much harder to generate growth."
Kantar data out today shows Waitrose continued to gain ground in the last 12 weeks, with sales up 2.1 per cent, although its market share remained the same at 5.2 per cent.