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Loblaw COO Dalton Philips leaving for U.K. post

Dalton Philips, right, seen here with Loblaw executive chairman Galen G. Weston.

Peter Power/Peter Power / The Globe and Mail

The executive at Loblaw Cos. Ltd. who was being groomed to take over a top position at the country's largest grocer is leaving the company.

Dalton Philips, Loblaw's chief operating officer, has been named chief executive officer of Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC, the fourth-ranked supermarket chain in Britain. He will leave Loblaw at the end of March.

Mr. Philips, a former Irish retail executive, joined Loblaw three years ago as part of a new direction at the grocer, aimed at turning around the troubled retailer. As Loblaw's COO, he gradually took on extra duties over the past years as other top executives left.

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He was believed to be the top choice to replace Loblaw president Allan Leighton, a long-time adviser to the controlling Weston family. Mr. Leighton is expected to leave in the next couple of years as Loblaw's turnaround takes hold.

"Food retail today is a very global business and the work that we are doing at Loblaw is highly visible around the retail world," Mr. Leighton said on Wednesday. "Dalton's appointment is a reflection of this and the progress that we are seen to have made."

In another management change, Inge van den Berg will be shifting to a merchandising position after serving as senior vice-president of corporate affairs. She is to be replaced by Bob Chant, former chief of staff to former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory.

Mr. Philips arrival at Loblaw marked a change of style among Loblaw's top brass to young and internationally savvy executives with a background in both food and general merchandise retailing. He had a reputation as a globetrotting Irish retail executive whose charm and style sparked a Dublin society columnist to all him "drop-dead gorgeous."

He did a short stint as CEO of Brown Thomas, the spiffy Irish retailer that, like Loblaw, is part of the Weston family empire. Before coming home to run Brown Thomas in 2005, he worked in 11 countries over 14 years, including a period in charge of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s German operations. Some Wal-Mart experience also seems to be a career-booster at the new Loblaw. At one time Mr. Leighton briefly ran Wal-Mart Europe.

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