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Woolworths' O'Brien retires, search on for replacement

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Woolworths said on Wednesday that its Chief Executive Grant O'Brien would retire after nearly four years at the helm of the Australian supermarket company, which is searching for a replacement.

O'Brien's retirement comes as the supermarket looks to lower prices and improve in-store experience to lure back customers and fight stiff competition from Wesfarmers-owned Coles and Germany's Aldi amid declining sales.

Last month, it announced a strategic plan to grow the business, cut costs and drive shareholder returns after first-half profit dropped.

"The recent performance has been disappointing and below expectations. I believe it is in the best interests of the company for new leadership to see these plans to fruition," O'Brien said in a statement.

Woolworths expects to book A$270 million ($209.30 million) in costs in the current financial year as part of its "strategic change", including A$40 million-A$50 million in redundancies which will see the company ax about 1200 jobs.

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Woolworths expects to deliver full year net profit after tax before significant items broadly in line with A$2.45 billion posted in 2014. Including the impact of significant items, it expects FY15 net profit after tax to be approximately A$2.15 billion.

The director of the group's retail services Penny Winn also announced her intention to step down while an internal candidate is expected to take up her position, Woolworths said in a statement.

Shares of Woolworths have underperformed rival Wesfarmers so far this year, trading down 12.5 percent. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 rose 2.3 percent in the period.