Argos owner Home Retail group today revealed chief executive Terry Duddy is to step down from his position next year. Retail Week takes a look at who may be in the frame to replace him.

John Walden, Argos managing director

John Walden, Argos managing director, is seen as the frontrunner in the race to replace Terry Duddy at Home Retail.

Walden is seen as the front runner in the race to replace Duddy.

The current Argos boss was an unknown quantity when he was appointed in February 2012. With experience as the boss of cleaning specialist Activeion and Inversion he was an unexpected appointment. However his previous work with Sears and Best Buy gave Walden the insight into the changing face of retail to lead Argos.

His multichannel credentials have been enhanced by his well received strategy to transform Argos and could give him enough credibility to step into Duddy’s shoes. Veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb dubbed Walden the “obvious” choice to replace Duddy. One source familiar with Home Retail says: “It’s all up there for Walden to play for and he’s holding all the cards but it’s never a slam-dunk.  Christmas will be a key factor, although it [the succession] will be about more than trading. He’ll need to show he can lead a wider business and take people with him. He’s on the right trajectory.”

Richard Ashton, Home Retail finance director

Richard Ashton

The 45-year-old cannot be discounted from getting the top job. He has intimate knowledge of the business at group level having been finance director of Home Retail since 2006. Before that, he held the same position at Argos since 2000. Ashton is a chartered accountant, and started his career at PwC. After that he joined GE where he held a range of senior finance roles. The source familiar with Home Retail says Ashton is “extremely well regarded and has breadth of experience”.

History, however, tells us that finance directors rarely take on the top roles at retailers. And Ashton faces somewhat of a Catch 22 – while he and Walden will be judged on the retailer’s performance this Christmas, if Argos does well, it will no doubt be Walden that takes the glory.

Paul Loft, Homebase managing director

Paul Loft

Loft may also throw his hat into the ring. As the managing director of Homebase for 10 years, he will have an inside knowledge of the workings of Home Retail. Before Homebase he was managing director of GUS Home Shopping, and has also worked at Debenhams and Burton, holding the position of finance director at both.

It is a sound footing on which to take the next step up, however, some may favour his counterpart at Argos John Walden for the role of Home Retail chief executive, due to his superior digital experience.

Plus, some have suggested that Homebase - which has been under pressure - should be spun off from Home Retail altogether.

Mark Newton-Jones, former Shop Direct chief executive

Mark Newton-Jones

The charismatic former Shop Direct boss is in the market for a new job since departing the home shopping giant earlier this year. Newton-Jones, who has also been tipped as a potential successor to Marc Bolland at M&S, has been applauded for the restructuring work he steered at Shop Direct. He led the sale of Littlewoods’ store business to Primark and spearheaded its transition from a catalogue business to a dynamic digital retailer.

There are similarities with Home Retail fascia Argos which is undergoing its own transformation into a digital retailer. Observers have long said that Argos’ 700-plus store portfolio needs restructuring, and Newton-Jones could be the man to prepare it for the digital future. He is no stranger to making tough decisions such as closing call centres and outsourcing staff.

Like Argos, Shop Direct operates in many categories and Newton-Jones is adept at working with both brands and own-label.

Kate Swann, former WHSmith boss and current chief executive of SSP

Kate Swann

If she hadn’t just taken up a new job at SSP, the UK’s largest operator of food outlets in train stations and airports, then Swann could be a hot contender to succeed Duddy.

Swann, who started at SSP today, stepped down from WHSmith after a decade in charge at the bookseller and stationer. Before handing over to Steve Clarke, she transformed an ailing giant into a business generating annual profits of more than £100m. Swann is no stranger to Argos, as she worked there before joining WHSmith. And her no-nonsense approach is loved by the City.

But Swann, who was also been linked with chief executive roles at several other major retailers, has extensive experience in the travel sector so the fit with SSP is perfect.

A relative unknown

Home Retail has form when it comes to leftfield appointments, and the last example seems to be working out well: John Walden was an unexpected hire but has impressed so far. Home Retail could look overseas or from other sectors for Duddy’s successor.