Morrisons group finance director Richard Pennycook has emerged as the bookies’ favourite to take over as chief executive when Marc Bolland leaves to head Marks & Spencer.

Pennycook, 45, joined Morrisons in 2005, and is recognised as one of the drivers of the retailer’s optimisation plan, which Bolland pushed through after joining in 2006.

Pennycook – with odds of 11/10 – is understood to be extremely committed to Morrisons and one headhunter said he could be viewed as the “safe” option. The headhunter said: “The Morrisons board and Sir Ken were shocked when Marc Bolland handed in his notice just three years into the role so they might now be looking for someone who can steer the retailer along the path that it has already laid out, and not run off after a short time.”

Some have questioned Pennycook’s retailing experience because he moved from the RAC to Morrisons, but he has previously served stints at Allders and Laura Ashley.

Pennycook told Retail Week that he is “having a think” about applying for the role as the news of Bolland’s departure “is still new news to us”. He added that “we are very much focused on Christmas”.

Morrisons has changed dramatically over the past three years, and Bolland has always acknowledged the resurgence of the grocer was a “team effort”. According to an exclusive ICM poll, carried out on behalf of Retail Week, almost half of respondents (45%) think Morrisons is better than it was three years ago.

Other names in the frame include Waitrose managing director Mark Price, Tesco’s Tim Mason and Richard Brasher, and Asda chief merchandising officer Darren Blackhurst.

Price has defied the recession to report bumper sales for Waitrose this year. He has ensured shoppers do not trade down to cheaper rivals with the launch of a value line, Waitrose Essential, and brokered several deals – such as a partnership with Alliance Boots to cross-sell products – to ensure the Waitrose brands extends its reach.

Another headhunter said Price would undoubtedly do a great job at Morrisons but that “he’s much more of a Waitrose man”.

Bolland said last week, when the grocer reported like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to November 1 up 4.3%, that M&S was an opportunity he could not pass up but he is committed to Morrisons “to the last minute I am here”.

Morrisons chairman Sir Ian Gibson said the business has a “strong management team that will continue to deliver the strategy”. He hoped to have the process wrapped up early in the new year but added: “We will wait for the right person.”

Odds on

  • 11/10 Richard Pennycook
  • 9/4 Mark Price
  • 3/1 Tim Mason,
  • 4/1 Richard Brasher
  • 8/1 Darren Blackhurst
  • 10/1 Richard Baker
  • 10/1 Ian Dyson
  • 12/1 Steve Easterbrook
  • 14/1 Ken McMeikan
  • 16/1 Stefan Barden
  • 20/1 Manvinder Singh Banga

Source: Paddy Power