City analysts hope to see evidence that Woolworths is being turned around in less than two years under new chief executive Steve Johnson.

Johnson, boss of DIY group Focus until July last year, will next month take on what is widely regarded as one of the toughest jobs in retail.

Pali International analyst Nick Bubb said: “Johnson won’t be judged until Christmas 2009. If he hasn’t started to turn Wool-ies around by then people will start to worry.”

Investec analyst David Jeary said: “The classic turnaround for a chief executive is three years, but you’d want to see improvements after 12 to 18 months with things like gross margin and cost cutting in any retailer.”

Dresdner Kleinwort analyst Sanjay Vidyarthi said: “People will look at the new strategy he lays out in six months’ time, expected to be announced with the results in March and see how well he delivers it. That’s when the clock will start ticking.”

Woolworths chairman Richard North would not say if there was a specific timeline for Johnson to deliver results by, but said of the appointment: “I’m really chuffed. We wanted someone who is bright, decisive and, most importantly, had a background in re-structuring under pressure.”

Johnson has previously held roles at Asda and GUS, as well as at consultancy Bain & Company.

Woolworths said Johnson had “successfully instigated a renewal strategy” at Focus, but some questioned just how successful that was. Bubb said: “He was managing the decline of Focus, which is not particularly encouraging.”

Johnson was placed in the Woolworths role by headhunter Heidrick & Struggles.