Asda has kicked off the search for a new finance director as it prepares for a return to the stock exchange.

The supermarket giant has instructed headhunters Heidrick & Struggles to find a heavyweight candidate who can help lead the public listing, according to The Sunday Times.

The move comes less than 18 months after Rob McWilliam took up the role on a fixed term contract last August. That deal currently runs until the end of 2020.

Asda owner Walmart admitted earlier this year that it is seeking an IPO for the Leeds-based business following the collapse of its proposed mega-merger with Sainsbury’s.

Walmart’s international boss Judith McKenna told Asda staff in May that the US retail titan was “seriously considering” an IPO in a bid to achieve “long-term success” for the grocer.

Speaking at a meeting of 1,200 of Asda’s store, warehouse and head office staff at its Leeds HQ, McKenna said Walmart was “not rushing” the move and that a return to public ownership would “take years”.

However, Retail Week understands Walmart is keen to move as quickly as possible to offload Asda as it refocuses on growth markets such as India, where it has a controlling stake in online player Flipkart.

McKenna said in May: “Walmart does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to operating its international markets, but a consistent focus on strong local businesses powered by Walmart.

“While we are not rushing into anything, I want you to know that we are seriously considering a path to an IPO – a public listing – to strengthen your long-term success.”

She added: “You were a good business going into the merger and under Roger [Burnley]’s leadership you – all of you – made this a stronger business over the last year. I believe that looking ahead, you have the potential for even greater things, and Walmart will ensure that you have resources to do that.”