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Tesco names Booker chief to key role in combined company

[LONDON] Tesco Plc named Booker Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Charles Wilson to lead its retail and wholesale operations in Britain and Ireland, elevating a potential successor for the leading role at the UK's biggest supermarket chain.

The move came Monday as Tesco prepares to complete its 3.7 billion-pound (S$6.85 billion) acquisition of Booker, which provides food and drinks to grocers and restaurants. Mr Wilson will succeed Matt Davies, who will leave at the end of April.

The appointment of Mr Wilson, 51, bolsters Tesco's executive ranks and creates a strong No. 2 to current CEO Dave Lewis. Before engineering the sale to Tesco, which U.K. regulators cleared in December, Mr Wilson increased Booker's earnings for 12 consecutive years since taking over in 2005.

The Booker chief transformed the company into a fast-growing competitor in a sector characterised by low returns, building its online sales to small business, which now represents about a fifth of total revenue. He also diversified Booker away from convenience stores into the faster-growing restaurant and catering markets. Rival Palmer & Harvey collapsed last year.

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Mr Wilson brings "substantial commercial and retail experience and has an exceptional track record of increasing performance and driving growth in customer-focused businesses," Mr Lewis, who is 52, said in a statement.

Mr Davies, 47, joined Tesco from auto-parts and bicycle seller Halfords Group Plc just three years ago, when the supermarket operator was near rock bottom after a 2014 accounting scandal. He has been at the center of Tesco's efforts to improve its image with British shoppers, and has helped oversee a recovery in U.K. sales growth.

Tesco shares were down 0.9 per cent early Monday in London.

The retailer forecast operating profit before exceptional items of at least 1.6 billion pounds for the financial year ending Feb. 24. That's roughly in line with analyst estimates. Tesco also said it expects to pay a final dividend of 2 pence per share.

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