LONDON (Reuters) - Morrisons, Britain's fourth biggest supermarket group, has given finance chief Trevor Strain extra responsibilities as commercial director, it said on Wednesday, making him the frontrunner to eventually succeed Chief Executive David Potts.
Strain, who has been at Morrisons for nearly a decade, already has responsibility for the group's property and online operations.
He has a "quasi COO-type role", said one analyst.
Strain will take over the commercial director position from Darren Blackhurst, who is moving to a strategic projects role, reporting to Potts, who has been CEO since 2015.
"Trevor has played...a critical part in the ongoing turnaround of Morrisons and his responsibilities are already significantly wider than those of the traditional CFO," Potts said.
"Now is the right time for him to take on the important new responsibilities of commercial director, where he has already been increasingly involved."
Like Potts, Strain is a former director of market leader Tesco. He has been Morrisons' chief finance officer since 2013.
"Trevor's expanded role should please shareholders given his track record over the past five years," said Jefferies analyst James Grzinic.
"We view today's news as sensible planning by the group and its board under the chairmanship of Andy Higginson," he said.
Morrisons is in the fourth year of Potts' turnaround plan after it was damaged by the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl and previous management mistakes.
He has overseen a steady improvement in trading through more competitive prices, improved product ranges and availability as well as better customer service in refurbished stores, driving Morrisons shares 15 percent higher so far this year.
Last month Morrisons reported a 9 percent rise in first-half underlying profit and its best quarterly like-for-like sales growth for nearly a decade.
Analysts said Blackhurst's projects are likely to include extending direct sourcing of home, leisure and clothing products, mitigating any impacts from Brexit, and identifying more wholesale customers for Morrisons.
(Reporting by James Davey, Editing by Paul Sandle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)