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Ryan quashes retirement talk with vision for Primark growth

Primark chairman and chief executive Arthur Ryan, has brushed aside rumours of retirement and pledged to stay with the business for another four years.

Ryan, 71, is understood to have told staff at a special internal meeting that he intends to remain at the helm at Primark until 2011.

Sources told Drapers that staff were expecting to hear news of his successor, but Ryan surprised them with his vow to remain in charge.

The news puts paid to feverish media speculation earlier this year that Primark was on the hunt for his replacement and had hired recruitment specialist Odgers Ray & Berndtson to find the right candidate. High-flying retail executives including M&S womenswear director Kate Bostock were cited as possible successors.

Ryan has been with the business, which also trades as Penneys in the Republic of Ireland, since 1969 and has overseen its success in the value fashion market.

This year it has leapfrogged Asda and Tesco in the battle for clothing market share by volume and stands second only to M&S. The leap followed Primark’s acquisition of 120 Littlewoods stores, when it cherry picked the best 41 sites and sold the rest to rivals.

The 171-store business completed the Littlewoods refits this year, taking its total trading space from 3.5 million sq ft in 2006 to 4.8m sq ft this year.

The pinnacle of Ryan’s achievements was the launch of the retailer’s first store on London’s Oxford Street this summer. Shoppers queued for hours before stampeding to get inside the store when it opened.

Primark declined to comment on the news that Ryan was to stay.

Pali International analyst Nick Bubb was unsurprised. He said: “Ryan is so hands-on that he’d be a hard act to follow. The team are strong and loyal, but there isn’t an all-rounder there like Arthur. It’s getting tougher for Primark, so maybe he wants to see through the changes it has gone through. And retiring at 75 is a good, round number.”

The retailer’s second-half sales are expected to grow 1%, rising by 7% at stores unaffected by new openings. It has 171 UK stores.

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