The Aztecs used to indulge in a bit of human sacrifice to appease the gods and it has become customary for companies to imitate the process when it comes to issuing repeated profit warnings.

The Aztecs used to indulge in a bit of human sacrifice to appease the gods and it has become customary for companies to imitate the process when it comes to issuing repeated profit warnings.

The abrupt departure of Halfords’ chief executive David Wild seems to fit that bill, as the latest downgrade today implies that the wheels are coming off, with the company expecting the wearisome downtrend in like-for-like  sales to persist in the second half.

It is also customary to dance around the subject in official statements about a chief executive’s sudden departure, with both sides wishing each other well etc etc.

Oddly enough, there seems to be no difference of opinion over strategy and everybody thinks Halfords is still a jolly good business. The comment by the Chairman Denis Millard today -  “Halfords is a strong business with a clear strategy and leading positions in a number of large and attractive retail and service markets” - is uncannily similar to the one made by David Wild himself four years ago when he took on the job: “Halfords has some very attractive market positions and exciting opportunities for continued growth as well as sound defensive qualities.” 

Halfords implies that it needs a chief executive who can “implement” the strategy of becoming a more services-led business, not that the much vaunted fitting services have done much to improve profits in recent years.

Perhaps the ultimate issue was one of style as, having worked at Tesco and Walmart, David Wild always gave the impression of being impatient and ambitious for greater things, for instance via acquisitions.

David Wild did not endear himself to the City by letting it be known that he would have quite liked to have bought not just Nationwide Autocentres in early 2010, but HobbyCraft and maybe even Blacks Leisure as well at the same time.

The City rather likes companies to prove one diversification move has worked first before trying another one. To be fair, the Autocentres deal was not without logic, even if the financial returns have been disappointing so far. The problems lie, as ever, in the core retail operation.

The unfortunate fact is that Halfords is a very mature business and though the first few years of the David Wild regime seemed to go well, with underlying pre-tax profit pushing on from about £90m in 2007/8 to £126m in 2010/11, the pace couldn’t be maintained.

Profits fell back sharply as soon as Halfords was compelled to put more cost back into the business and “the weather” has become an increasingly regular excuse trotted out for why consumers are not buying bikes at Halfords.

Halfords has tried selling new products, such as sat navs and tents, but when these new areas go wrong as well, and motorists cut back on discretionary spending, the result is misery.

Sometimes companies just have to accept that their growth prospects are limited and act accordingly, so it will be interesting to see who steps up to take on the chief exec’s role.

One person we can be sure will not be applying is the former finance director, now the chief executive of Dunelm, Nick Wharton, who wisely saw the writing on the wall and left in the autumn of 2010 while the going was good.