It has been indicated that as many as seven candidates are in the field to take the top job at Australian retailer Woolworths when chief executive officer Roger Corbett stands down.

Chairman James Strong has declined to comment on when the changeover might take place, although Corbett had previously been expected to retire next year. Earlier this week Bill Wavish stepped down from his position as director of Woolworths Supermarket Group, shocking investors who had widely tipped him to succeed Corbett.

Strong said it was “too far ahead to speculate” whether Corbett might now stay in his position for an extra year and retire in 2005.

“I think the most important thing is that Roger sees that it’s appropriate for him to make sure that there’s adequate time to do […] well plan and well executed succession,” Strong told SBS’s Business Show.

Strong implied that the appointment would be made internally, and commented that there were a number of strong contenders inside the company.

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He refused to specify candidates but general manager of supermarket buying and marketing Bernie Brookes, general manager of supermarket operations Tom Flood and general manager of supply chains Michael Luscombe are all rumoured to be well placed to take over the top job, commented Asia Pulse.

Other names being circulated include Naum Onikul, who currently oversees Woolworths’ free-standing liquor stores and the Plus Petrol business, Big W general manager Marty Hamnett and chief financial officer Tom Pockett.