Stefano Pessina, the largest shareholder of Walgreens Boots Alliance, is stepping down as CEO of the company.

Mr Pessina, the Italian-Monegasque billionaire, who is now 79, will become executive chairman of the company once a replacement for him has been found, Walgreens Boots Alliance said.

The reappointment will mark five years since Mr Pessina was made CEO of the company, following the merger he orchestrated between Alliance Boots and the USA company Walgreens in December 2014.

‘Unprecedented global crisis’

Boots has since announced a raft of branch closures and job cuts. In June last year, it confirmed that 200 UK branches would close over the next 18 months. Then last month, it announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs, after retail sales fell by almost half during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Announcing financial results for the third quarter, Mr Pessina said the pandemic had affected the business worldwide.

He said: ‘Prior to the pandemic our financial performance for fiscal 2020 was on track with our expectations. However, this unprecedented global crisis led to a loss in the quarter as stay-at-home orders affected all of our markets. I’m very proud of how all of our teams mobilised and adapted to deliver essential services in our communities across the world.’

‘Fulfilled our purpose’

Despite the financial pressures, the retail giant continues to operate nearly 2,500 stores across the UK and employs around 54,000 staff - of which 6,350 are registered pharmacists.

Earlier this month, Boots Pharmacy also launched an online cancer consultation service, available to cancer patients wanting advice who are shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commenting on his departure, Mr Pessina said: ‘I want to thank our team members around the world for their extensive achievements in the last five years, as we have fulfilled our purpose to help people lead healthier and happier lives.

‘I look forward to continuing to serve the company as executive chairman, and to helping to ensure the success of the new chief executive officer in every way possible.’