Judith McKenna has been named chief operating officer of Asda, Britain’s second-biggest supermarket group by market share, succeeding former Tesco executive Simon King, who left after only six months in the post.
Ms McKenna is Asda’s finance director and seasoned supermarket watchers said her promotion, effective from September, indicated she was being lined up for a bigger role within Walmart, Asda’s parent company.
“This is her growing into becoming a chief executive of a Walmart country at some point, whether it would be the UK or anywhere else,” said one.
Andy Clarke, chief executive of Asda, is coming under increasing pressure after the supermarket chain lost market share to rivals, despite its £778m acquisition of Netto UK last year.
However, people close to Asda dismissed speculation that Ms McKenna was being lined up to succeed Mr Clarke.
Ms McKenna will be succeeded in the interim by Rob McWilliam, commercial finance director, who is a strong candidate to become finance director on a permanent basis.
In her new role, Ms McKenna will be responsible for all of Asda’s retail operations, including its stores, distribution network and information technology systems.
Dave McCarthy, analyst at Evolution Securities, said: “This is a good move by Asda Walmart and will help bring stability to the company in a difficult time for the industry.”