John Lewis Partnership group development director Tom Athron will leave the business next spring.

It is not yet known whether he has secured another role or if he will be replaced.

Athron was mooted to be in the running for the department store chain’s managing director role and has been tipped as a future retail chief executive.

The job went to commercial director Paula Nickolds following the departure of longtime boss Andy Street.

Athron has held multiple roles across the partnership, including finance director of Waitrose and buying director of electricals and home technology at John Lewis.

JLP chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said: “Tom has enjoyed a successful 12 years in the partnership and has decided that he now wishes to explore new opportunities outside the partnership. We wish him every success in the future.”

John Lewis Partnership is currently in a state of flux. While it retains its crown as market-leader, it is not immune to the increasingly tough retail environment.

In September it reported that half-year pre-tax profits had crashed despite a modest rise in sales.

Pre-tax profits before exceptional items were down just 4.6% to £83m, but they crashed 53% to £26m when exceptional items and property profits were taken into account, with restructuring and redundancy costs hitting the bottom line.

Across the partnership, total sales rose 2.3% to £5.39bn. Sales at Waitrose and John Lewis climbed to £3.34bn and £2.07bn respectively.