* FD Trevor Strain takes on CEO duties on interim basis
* Chairman Andrew Higginson to spend more time in business
* Ousted CEO Dalton Philips to leave firm on Feb. 16
* Strain not a candidate for CEO job
* Bookmakers’ favourite for CEO job is David Potts (Adds detail, shares)
LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Britain’s No.4 supermarket group Morrisons said finance director Trevor Strain would take on chief executive duties while a successor is sought to replace Dalton Philips, who was ousted as CEO in January after poor Christmas trading.
The Bradford, northern England-based firm said on Thursday that Philips, having overseen the end of Morrisons’ 2014-15 financial year to Feb. 1, would leave the business on Feb. 16.
The firm had said in January that Philips would stay until March 12, when full-year results are due to be presented.
Morrisons said the search for a new CEO was “progressing well”. In the interim, Strain will chair the management board and assume Philips’ executive responsibilities, while new chairman Andrew Higginson will also spend more time in the business.
Strain is not a candidate for the CEO position on a permanent basis, Higginson said last month.
The bookmakers’ favourite is David Potts, a former Tesco colleague of Higginson.
Potts had a 39-year career with market leader Tesco. Having started off stacking shelves, he rose to head the firm’s UK business and then its Asian operations.
Higginson was an executive director at Tesco for 15 years. Both left Tesco in 2012 after missing out on the CEO job to Philip Clarke.
Morrisons lagged rivals Tesco, Wal-Mart’s Asda and Sainsbury’s under Philips’s five-year watch.
The firm has suffered because the discounters, Aldi and Lidl, are strong in its northern heartlands and it was late to move to into better performing parts of the market, namely convenience stores and online shopping.
However, industry data published on Tuesday showed Morrisons’ best performance since December 2013, with sales down 0.4 percent over the 12 weeks to Feb. 1.
Shares in Morrisons, down 23 percent over the last year, were up 1.7 percent at 183 pence at 1055 GMT. (Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter)