The embattled UK retailer William Morrison Supermarkets PLC has upped the search for a new CEO, according to press reports.

The Financial Times said yesterday (20 December) that the company was close to appointing a headhunter to seek out a new chief executive. William Morrison was reported to have narrowed a list of potential candidates down to about half a dozen internal and external candidates.

The Financial Times story said it was understood that the 12-strong board has discussed hiring Jill Ader from Egon Zehnder International to find a replacement for Bob Stott, the chief executive. But the appointment hasn’t yet been signed off.

Initially, Sir Ken Morrison, the group’s chairman, had indicated Stott would stay on until 2007. However, an acceleration in the search for a replacement had taken place since the retailer reported the first pre-tax loss in its 106-year history, this year, the FT said.