The surprise departure of chief executive Hans-Joachim Körber from German retailer Metro has fuelled speculation that it will sell its troubled department store chain Kaufhof

The leadership change at Metro, which operates 2,400 outlets in 30 countries, is expected to result in the appointment of Dr Eckhard Cordes. Cordes is chairman of the managing board of Haniel, the German conglomerate, which, along with the Schmidt-Ruthenbeck family, controls more than 50 per cent of Metro.

The Metro board recommended the appointment of Cordes to take over when Körber steps down in October.

Metro said: “Cordes will push forward Metro’s alignment to a value-enhancing corporate strategy in the coming years.”

In a meeting with union representatives, Cordes said he would not break up the retailer, but added that there were no guarantees if divisions failed to create value in the medium term.

Cordes is believed to want to pursue a restructuring strategy, in contrast to Körber, under whose leadership the company grew to become the third largest retailer in the world, with sales of 60 billion (£42.08 billion).

Deutsche Bank analyst James Collins said: “We believe Kaufhof would be the easiest of Metro’s two underperforming divisions to divest – food retail and department stores – because of its high freehold property content and better recent
trading record.”

He added that the retailer could also consider an IPO of its consumer electronics brand MediaMarkt or benefit from a review of its property assets.

Körber’s stance favoured consolidation within the European department store sector and rejected any split of its operations division from its property portfolio.

Arcandor, the owner of rival German department store chain Karstadt, said it is not interested in buying or forming a partnership with Kaufhof.