A new chief operating officer has been parachuted in to troubled Threshers owner First Quench Retailing, replacing its IT and central operations directors, who have both left the business.

At the same time, day-to-day running of the business has been assigned to finance director Martin Healy, after chief executive Yvonne Rankin was taken ill two weeks ago. There is no indication of when she will return.

Earlier this week auditor Ernst & Young voiced concerns over the group’s future as a going concern in its response to First Quench Retailing’s annual report. First Quench is owned by Vision Capital, which acquired it in 2007 prior to Rankin’s appointment as chief executive in September that year.

A memo sent to staff from Martin Healy and seen by Retail Week explained that new chief operating officer Bruno Kusters, who has previously worked on large projects for Boots, has been appointed to concentrate central operations activity and ensure reporting lines are as short as possible.

Kusters has 25 years’ experience working in operations management, IT, supply chain and manufacturing. He has taken charge of the central operations programme at First Quench, including supply chain, warehousing, transport and IT.

Sources suggest that Kusters’ appointment was at the behest of Vision Capital’s Johan Van de Steen, who is known to have had involvement with the retailer. The spokesman was unable to confirm whether there was a connection.

Kusters replaces IT director Nicola Duckett and central operations director Mike Stockdale.

A spokesman for First Quench said that neither had been made redundant and both had left the company amicably to pursue other projects.

The spokesman added that Rankin is still chief executive and will be back “as soon as possible”.

Ernst & Young cited a “material uncertainty” as the reason for its warning on the company’s ability to keep trading. The business reported sales of £652.3m, with a £30m loss for the year to June 28, 2008.

First Quench says that these results are for a period when it was only six months into its turnaround plan and that it is addressing the key commercial and operational issues facing the company.