By Sonya Dowsett
MADRID (Reuters) - Zara owner Inditex said it would split its dual role of chief executive and chairman, leaving Pablo Isla to lead the company and appointing Carlos Crespo as new CEO in a sign of the importance of digital strategy in driving sales growth.
The appointment reflected the key role of technology at Inditex, a company source said, given the retailer's push to integrate online sales with its store network by focusing on large stores where customers might try on items to buy later online.
As chief operating officer, Crespo oversaw the integration of the company's online and physical stores with features like "click and collect" and the ability of customers to check online to see if an item was available in a nearby store.
Although Inditex is seen by investors as one of the best-performing apparel retailers, its earnings growth has come under pressure as it faces increasing competition and as online retailing makes shoppers more savvy trawling for bargains.
Isla, who until now has held the positions of both chairman and CEO, will stay as executive chairman. Crespo will work with Isla to define overall company strategy, the company said.
"Most importantly for investors in our view is that Pablo Isla remains fully committed to the business as executive chairman and Carlos Crespo will be reporting into him," said Adam Cochrane, analyst at Citi.
"The overall strategy and execution will be unchanged."
Inditex had separate roles for chairman and chief executive until 2011 when then-CEO Isla took over as chairman from founder Amancio Ortega. Ortega, 83, still plays an active role in the company.
The company disappointed the market in March by missing full-year earnings expectations, held back by flat margins and a stronger euro which curbed sales growth at Zara and its other brands.
Shares closed at 24.7 euros on Thursday, giving the company a market value of 77.25 billion euros. Shares have risen 13 percent in the year to date.
Crespo, 48, has been with Inditex for 18 years and will be responsible for technology, IT security, logistics, transportation and sustainability amongst other areas in his new role.
"Carlos Crespo's track record within the group and his responsibilities as COO made this promotion the natural next step," Inditex said in a statement.
The appointment will take effect in July, once approved by the board and shareholders.
(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett, editing by David Evans and Alexandra Hudson)