AO founder Roberts to step down as CEO

John Roberts, the founder of Bolton-based online domestic appliances company AO World, has stepped aside as chief executive to allow its chief operating officer Steve Caunce to take over the role.

Roberts, 43, set up the £600m turnover business in 2000 and retains a 26% stake. His new role will be as founder and executive director.

Caunce, who holds a 12% share, will lead the company as chief executive, accountable for strategy performance and delivery, while Roberts will focus on innovation and inspiring AO’s staff.

Caunce joined AO as chief financial officer in 2005, before taking on wider operational responsibilities and becoming chief operating officer in 2015. Prior to joining AO, he was finance director with Phones 4U between 2001 and 2003 and held senior positions at Mytravel and Preston North End.

“Both will be responsible for maintaining AO’s unique culture,” the company said, adding that the transition  reflects AO’s rapid growth and success and the board’s succession planning work since the company’s stock market listing in 2014.

The company 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 today, selling more products from widescreen TVs to fridge freezers, washing machines and fridge freezers.

Roberts said: “I am immensely proud to be handing over the CEO reins to Steve, who has been with me on the AO journey for more than 10 years.  This is the right time for this change – for AO, for Steve and for me – and I look forward to continuing to work closely together.”

Geoff Cooper, AO chairman, said: “Steve has been a key part of the business for more than a decade, most notably overseeing our recent move into Germany and the Netherlands. 

“John’s move reflects the successful management transition as we build on John’s entrepreneurial roots in the AO business that he founded. 

“John’s new role will enable him to continue to play to his strengths as an innovator and a visionary leader. Steve and John remain very much a partnership and together they will ensure that AO continues to deliver for customers, colleagues, suppliers and our investors.”

The new management structure takes effect immediately.