Sir Terry Leahy has been hailed as “one of Britain's great retailers” with the news he is to leave Tesco in 2011, after 14 years at the helm.
He will depart next March having helped transform the supermarket from the UK's number two chain to the clear market leader and an international force.
Sir Terry, who was knighted in 2002 for his services to food retailing, said he felt his work was “almost done” after taking Tesco to the top spot and establishing long-term areas of growth.
Sir Terry, said he would concentrate on “private investment” after he left Tesco, but would retain a large shareholding in the firm.
“When I became chief executive I had a plan to build Tesco around its customers, to make it number one in the UK, and to find new long-term growth in non-food, in services, and in international expansion,” he said.
“It has taken 14 years, but that strategy has become a firm reality now, and so I feel my work is almost complete.”
Shares in the supermarket dropped nearly 2% after news of Sir Terry’s departure.
A life-long Tesco employee, Sir Terry joined in 1979 and held a number of marketing and commercial positions before being appointed to the board in October 1992 and then chief executive on February 21, 1997.
His notable milestones include the launch of Tesco.com, Tesco Direct, Tesco Finest in 1998, and more recently expansion into America with the Fresh & Easy chain.
Retail analyst Sam Hart at Charles Stanley said Sir Terry had an “extremely good stint”, and had earned a formidable reputation at Tesco.
“He certainly has been successful in the role, and goes down as one of the great retailers,” he added.
Sir Terry is to be succeeded in the top job by international and IT director Philip Clarke.
Meanwhile, it emerged that Sainsbury's boss Justin King earned a total pay package of almost £8m last year, as his efforts to revive Tesco’s main rival chain continued.
Mr King's bumper package consisted of £3.35m in salary, bonuses, benefits, pension contributions, and deferred share awards, the company’s annual report said.