WHSmith has poached Richard Cristofoli from Sainsbury's to fulfil the role of brand director.
Cristofoli, who was head of non-food marketing and development, will be responsible for WHSmith's ad campaigns, promotions and Clubcard.
Cristofoli is the third senior management departure from Sainsbury's non-food team in six months, at a time when it wants to bolster its authority in general merchandise.
WHSmith is a takeover target of Permira, which has linked up with ex-Hamleys chief executive Simon Burke.
Permira has begun due diligence work and touted an indicative offer of 375p a share.
One analyst said: 'Kate Swann (WHSmith chief executive) would clearly not be doing her job properly if she was not working out what to do with the core business, given that there's nothing firm on the table yet.'
'It's a fairly unattractive business though. It doesn't compete in areas where it should, like entertainment.'