LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Co-operative Group (42TE.L) said Richard Pennycook, its CEO who played a key role in steering the group through a 2013 crisis, is to step down on March 1 and be succeeded by Steve Murrells, the current boss of the group's food business.
The mutually-owned supermarkets to funeral services group said on Tuesday that Pennycook, who has since led its rebuilding, would remain as an adviser to the group, primarily focusing on its relations with the Co-operative Bank (42RQ.L).
The Co-op nearly collapsed in 2013 after a 1.5 billion-pound funding "hole" was found in the banking operation. But it has recovered under Pennycook, aided by the shift in Britons' grocery shopping habits towards more frequent trips to smaller convenience stores.
"Richard Pennycook saved our Co-op," said Co-op Chair Allan Leighton.
"In three short years he has rescued and rebuilt our business and restored pride to our 70,000 colleagues and 4.5 million members. We owe Richard a huge debt of gratitude and his place in Co-op history is secured."
Former Morrisons (MRW.L) finance chief Pennycook, who joined the Co-op on an interim basis having put on hold a planned portfolio career, has signalled that he now wishes to return to that plan, said the Co-op.
Murrells joined the Co-op to run its food business in 2012.
In other changes Pippa Wicks, currently group chief operating officer, becomes deputy CEO, while Jo Whitfield, currently finance director of the food business, will become CEO of Co-op Food on an interim basis.
Last month the Co-op said it enjoyed strong trading in the final quarter of 2016, helped by the positive impact of a new membership scheme.
Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Adrian Croft