Michael Sharp
Michael Sharp, CEO of DebenhamsDebenhams

Debenhams boss Michael Sharp, is planning to step down in 2016, the retailer announced. Sharp has headed the firm since September 2011, navigating the multinational giant through rough times for consumer-oriented businesses. Sharp said in a statement that he hopes the announcement provides clarity at a time of press speculation and rumours about the company.

"I hope being transparent about my intentions will stop recent speculation becoming a distraction, allowing me and the Debenhams team to focus on delivering our strategy and the important Christmas trading period," he commented. "We have a strong and talented management team and I would like to thank them and our 30,000 colleagues for their continuing support, hard work and passion."

The speculation from shareholders and media was a result of big Debenhams investors raising recent issues with the board. Broker Cenkos has been vocal in its criticism of Sharp and chairman Nigel Northridge, but in September, other big stake holders Milestone, Schroder and Old Mutual are thought to have teamed up to consider replacing the two top dogs.

Holding over a quarter of the total Debenhams stake, the investors have argued that Sharp's 'evolution not revolution' approach to the retailer is not appropriate anymore, at a time of strong competition and shoppers looking for bargains.

In his fifth year as chief executive of Debenhams, the board said Sharp told its members it was time to look for a successor. Sharp managed to grow Debenhams sales in the first years in his role, with high inflation and taxes, while consumer spending was weak. The strong results saw Sharp take home around £300,000 in bonuses alone in his first year as CEO.

In the years of slow recovery from the 2008 crash, he managed to maintain the company, but as revenue was almost flat - the firm reported a 0.4% increase in the full year - critics say now is the time for more aggressive tactics.

"I accepted the job of Chief Executive with the intention of spending five years in the role and although it will be difficult to leave a fabulous company like Debenhams, now is the right time for the Board to begin the process of identifying my successor," Sharp explained.

The retail boss is set to remain during the Christmas period and has given himself plenty of time to prepare Debenhams for his departure. Northridge looks set to stay at his position for the time being.