IPSWICH and Norwich Co-op Chief Executive Bill Brown is to retire later this year after more than 28 years with the society.
Mr Brown, who hails from Northumberland, started work in 1960 with his local society in the North East. He graduated from the Co-operative College in 1966 and broadened his retailing experience across several departments before moving to Ipswich Co-op in 1976.
Initially responsible for all food retailing activities including over 40 local food stores and supermarkets, he was promoted to Chief Executive in 1984.
During his time at Ipswich he led the society through a period of steady development and growing financial strength.
In 1993, the society merged with the Norwich Society to become one of the major independent consumer co-ops in the country with interests in food retailing, department stores, motor dealerships, pharmacies, opticians, dairy processing and funeral services.
Last year, the society reported a turnover of £ 273 million and with over 3,000 employees the business is now one of the region's largest employers.
Mr Brown has also served as a director of the Co-operative Group (formerly CWS) since 1987 and was a director of the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) for 15 years, retiring last June as deputy chairman.
He told the News: "The Co-op competes against all sorts of commercial organisations but the co-operative community spirit demands a different approach. We like our local stores to be more than just shops ? they should be a part of the community where neighbours meet, news is spread and a sense of local belonging is nurtured.
"We do that by developing on a local scale, retaining our regional identity and putting so much back into the community.
"I never cease to be amazed at the way in which the Co-op has touched the lives of almost everyone in the region; as employer, as retailer and supplier of goods and services or as a supporter of many worthy causes."
He added: "It has been a pleasure to serve the society for so long and to ensure that through commercial success we have been able achieve our community objectives."
A final retirement date for Mr Brown will be agreed with the Board later in the year in the light of arrangements for the appointment of a successor.