Richard Pennycook, the man credited with saving The Co-op Group, is to step down as CEO.

The Co-operative today (7 February) announced that Pennycook will be succeeded as group CEO by Steve Murrells, currently CEO of the Co-op’s food business, from 1 March. Pennycook will act as an advisor to the group.

He joined the Co-op in 2013 at the height of its banking crisis and led its ‘Rescue and Rebuild’ phases.

The Co-op said it was now entering the “third and final year of its Rebuild”, and that the attention of the leadership was turning to ‘Renewal’.

“Richard Pennycook saved our Co-op,” said Co-op chairman Allan Leighton. “In three short years he has rescued and rebuilt our business and restored pride to our 70,000 colleagues and 4.5 million members. We owe Richard a huge debt of gratitude and his place in Co-op history is secured.

“We are fortunate to have Steve as our new group CEO. He is a natural co-operator, a great leader and has already done so much to return our Co-op to its former glory.

“Steve has transformed our food business. His leadership has seen our Co-op consistently outperform the market in food and he is the right and unanimous choice to now take the whole group forward for the next phase of our transformation.”

Murrells said: “All the signs are that consumers are looking for a different type of business, one that looks after them and their communities and I truly believe that the Co-op is that business.”

Pennycook, who had joined the Co-op on an interim basis, is expected to return to his plans of having a portfolio career.

“Leaving the Co-op was always going to be hard, but the time is right,” he said. “In passing the baton to Steve, I leave safe in the knowledge that the Co-op will be taken forward by a leader who shares our vision of what can be achieved in the future. Steve has a terrific team around him and an organisation that has rediscovered its self-confidence. I could not be more proud of them all and wish them great success in the future.”

Pippa Wicks, currently group chief operating officer, becomes deputy CEO.

Jo Whitfield, currently finance director of the food business, will become CEO of Co-op Food on an interim basis.

Kantar Worldpanel data today revealed that the Co-op had been overtaken by Aldi as the UK’s fifth-largest supermarket.