Ill health has forced the resignation of John Dowd from his role as MD of the Bradford-based supermarkets group William Morrison, and the announcement yesterday [Monday] heralded a serious setback for the company's plans for management succession.

The highly regarded Dowd, whose ill health was first announced in January, will be absent from the company for several months as he undergoes major surgery. Once it is completed, however, he will be unable to return to his former role. Nevertheless, he will remain an employee of Morrison's, for whom he has worked for 30 years, and stay on the payroll.

The resignation has left the low cost chain's 70-year-old chairman, Ken Morrison, taking on the role more permanently.

Morrison's stated: "It is our sad duty to announce that John has not responded to treatment in the way first hoped. After consulting with both his family and medical advisers we have taken their advice that John needs to concentrate his efforts on recovery and have reluctantly accepted his resignation."

Analysts were quick to point out however that Dowd's resignation will prove a setback to the company's plans. One told the Independent: "The plan was that John was going to progressively take over (from Ken Morrison) and had been doing that since last autumn.

"They may need to look outside now."