* Roberts to retain executive role on board
* Operations chief Steve Caunce becomes CEO (Adds detail, executive comments)
By James Davey
LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - AO World’s founder and largest shareholder John Roberts has stepped down as chief executive of the British online electricals retailer but remain on the board in a new executive role, the company said on Wednesday.
The firm said Roberts would be succeeded as CEO by Steve Caunce, currently the chief operations officer.
The 43-year-old, who founded AO in 2000 and floated it on the London stock exchange in 2014, will be succeeded as CEO by Steve Caunce, currently chief operations officer.
AO has evolved from being a domestic retailer in the UK in 2014 in a single category, to operating in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, selling multiple categories of electrical products.
“This is not me exiting stage left, this is not me leaving the business, this is a formalisation of the responsibilities of what people do in the business ... This is part of an evolutionary process,” Roberts told reporters, adding that Caunce is already effectively running the business.
AO said that Caunce, 48, who holds a 12.17 percent stake in the company, compared with Roberts’s 25.94 percent, will lead the company and be accountable for strategy and performance delivery, while Roberts will focus on innovation and staff development.
“I would not be taking on this role unless John was continuing doing what he does,” said Caunce, who joined AO as finance chief in 2005.
AO shares floated at 285 pence in February 2014 and peaked at 412 pence on their listing day. But the stock was badly knocked by a profit warning in 2015.
The shares closed at 150 pence on Wednesday, having fallen by 9 percent over the past year. Its market capitalisation is 642 million pounds ($798 million).
“This transition in management roles reflects AO’s rapid growth and success and the board’s succession planning work,” the company said.
Chairman Geoff Cooper said there was unanimous approval from the board for the changes.
“Both John and Steve remain fully committed, long-term investors in AO World,” the company added.
In January AO reported third-quarter group revenue up 12.3 percent year on year but gave a cautious outlook for the final quarter of its 2016/17 financial year, citing an uncertain british economic outlook, currency effects on supplier pricing and the potential effect on consumer demand. ($1 = 0.8044 pounds) (Editing by Mark Potter and David Goodman)