Primark has poached senior New Look director Paul Marchant as chief operating officer.

The appointment of Marchant to the pivotal new post will reignite speculation about one of the most talked-about successions in the retail sector.

It will further fuel suggestions that founder and executive chairman Arthur Ryan, who will be 73 next month, is preparing to step down from the day-to-day running of the value fashion powerhouse.

Marchant was promoted to chief operating officer at New Look in April, following a management restructure at the fast fashion retailer. Prior to the reshuffle – when New Look chief executive Phil Wrigley become executive chairman and managing director for marketing, operations and international Carl McPhail was promoted to chief executive – Marchant had been director of buying, merchandising and design since joining the retailer in January 2005. Before New Look, he worked at Debenhams, latterly as director of womens- and childrenswear.

Retail Knowledge Bank senior partner Robert Clark said: “One would immediately think the appointment was part of a succession plan and boosting the wider experience of the board of Primark.”

Primark has driven a fashion revolution on the high street since it was founded as Penneys by Ryan in 1969 in Ireland.

In March this year, its share of the clothing market rose to 10.1 per cent, snapping at the heels of Marks & Spencer, which has an 11.4 per cent share by volume.

In the 24 weeks to March 1, Primark notched up a 22 per cent rise in operating profits to£111 million – a 4 per cent like-for-like hike, which left its peers standing.

Clark said Marchant’s operational and product experience will enable him to bring “wide experience to the party across a number of disciplines”.

He added: “He is a senior name in the value end of the market, although New Look is faster fashion. His priority will be to take Primark forward with a faster and more fashionable element and to continue the very detailed work Arthur Ryan is doing.”

Primark, which is owned by Associated British Foods, has 173 stores mainly in the UK and is to open another eight over the next five months, including four in Spain. It will also open in Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands next year.

A Primark spokesman declined to comment on the appointment. He said: “We are out there looking to strengthen the team and we are stepping it up as we push into Europe and look for new skill sets.”

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