Updated: Alliance Boots group chief executive Andy Hornby is to step down from the business, Retail Week has learned.

Hornby is to leave the group with immediate effect to take a few months break after “an intense five years as CEO of two major companies”.

Alliance Boots said it will now start an internal and external search for a replacement.

Hornby said: “After an intense last five years as CEO of two major companies, I have decided to take a few months break and, having discussed it with the board of Alliance Boots, to stand down from my post as group chief executive.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of years at Alliance Boots during which time the company has performed very well. I am confident that Alliance Boots will continue to go from strength to strength under the leadership of Stefano Pessina and the executive team.”

Hornby was drafted in by executive chairman Stefano Pessina in July 2009 to lead the health and beauty giant, leaving Pessina more time to focus on international deals.

Pessina said: “I would like to thank Andy for his contribution to the group.  He has been a committed member of our executive team with a wealth of retail and marketing experience and excellent communication skills.  Andy leaves with our very best wishes for the future.”

Hornby earned his retail stripes at Asda but prior to joining Alliance Boots he was the former HBOS boss, which almost collapsed in the banking crisis.

Alliance Boots has performed well after being taken private by Pessina, backed by KKR. In a statement Alliance Boots said it expects to report another strong trading profit in May, when it announces results for the year to March 31.

Over Christmas Boots UK reported like-for-likes up 3.8% and the retailer has formed several partnerships with other retailers such as Waitrose and Mothercare.