Alliance Boots is unlikely to appoint a successor to departed group chief executive Andy Hornby in the near future, following his sudden exit last week. exclusively revealed the news of Hornby’s departure last Friday. But although the company’s official statement said a replacement would be appointed “in due course”, it is understood that no process to appoint a successor has yet begun and it could even be as long as two years before someone is appointed.

Hornby’s role was a largely hands-off one, supporting Alliance Boots executive chairman Stefano Pessina on finance and strategy, and freeing his time to work on international development.

Because Hornby was not involved in the day-to-day running of the businesses, with retail being run by Alex Gourlay and pharmaceutical wholesaling by Ornella Barra, there is likely to be little impact on the business as a result of his departure.

In a statement, Hornby said he wanted to take time away from business: “After an intense five years as chief executive of two major companies, I have decided to take a few months break. I have enjoyed the last couple of years at Alliance Boots during which time the company has performed very well.”

Hornby, who made his name in retail when he was appointed to Asda’s management board at the age of 32, was chief executive of HBoS at the time of the 2008 banking crisis, when the bank had to be rescued by Lloyds TSB.

While Hornby’s departure came out of the blue to observers - he spoke on behalf of Boots at the Retail Week Conference just two weeks ago - it is understood it was not a complete surprise within the company because he still felt the impact of his time at HBoS, when his name was dragged through the mud alongside bankers like Sir Fred Goodwin.

Boots has been a strong performer since being taken private by Pessina and KKR for £11bn in 2007. The company said it “continues to perform well and expects to report another year of strong trading profit growth in May”.