AO World founder returns to helm after boss stands down

The boss of electricals retailer AO World has stepped down, with the chain’s founder swooping back in to take the helm.

Chief executive Steve Caunce, 50, has quit with immediate effect to “step back to a less demanding business role and re-balance his lifestyle”, according to the group.

John Roberts, who led AO World until Mr caunce was promoted in February 2017, has been reappointed to take the reins.

Mr Caunce will remain involved in the business on a part-time basis as an adviser to the chief executive and the board.

The move comes after AO World posted an £11.7 million operating loss for the six months to September 30 amid a challenging UK and German market.

But the group enjoyed a record Black Friday, with sales surging 8.2% over the third quarter ended December 31.

The firm said Mr Caunce had led the group through “two years of intense activity”.

Mr Caunce said: “It is a privilege to have played a significant part in AO’s success and to have led the company for the last two years.

“I have decided to step down at a time when I feel AO is well-placed to continue to thrive as a leader in our sector.”

Mr Roberts and AO World’s chairman, Geoff Cooper, both praised the outgoing boss, who has worked as part of the management team for 13 years.

Mr Cooper said: “I have been impressed with his work as CEO; he has made a fundamental contribution over 13 years both in building AO into the business it is today and in setting out our commitment to delivering for shareholders going forward.”

AO World said Mr Roberts – who founded the group in 2000 and still owns a 23% shareholding – has been focusing on innovation and development projects for the past two years, although he has remained on the board.

“He now has a renewed energy to focus on the business he created and to lead AO on the continued execution of its strategy,” it added.

Mr Roberts, 45, said he “can’t wait to get stuck in again as CEO as we move on to the next exciting stage of the AO story”.

Analysts at Jefferies said Mr Caunce leaves a “well-structured business, with a strengthened senior management team and sound infrastructure”.

They added: “Although there are near-term challenges, in the medium term AO’s excellent reputation for customer service (among customers at least), should underpin its growth prospects.”

FTSE 250-listed AO World, which has its headquarters in Bolton, operates across the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.