Outgoing Procter and Gamble CEO Bob McDonald told employees it was a "very difficult decision," but he will retire due to the "distraction" of all the attention focused on him from "several angles."
"When we get to a point where too much attention becomes a distraction, it's time to change that dynamic," he wrote in a letter obtained Friday by CNBC.
That's an apparent reference to dissatisfaction expressed by some shareholders, including Pershing Square's Bill Ackman, about the company's performance in the three years McDonald has had the job.
P&G announced late Thursday it is bringing A.G. Lafley out of retirement to be its Chairman and CEO, effective immediately. He had been CEO from 2000 to 2009.
McDonald will retire at the end of June after 33 years with the company. In 2009, McDonald took over the CEO job from Lafley
In his letter, McDonald writes he is "thankful" Lafley agreed to come back.
Lafley also wrote to employees, telling them "we will build on the business momentum behind the current growth strategies."
Shares of the Dow component were up almost four percent in late Friday morning trading.
Jim McNerney, the presiding director of P&G's board said in a statement that Lafley's "track record and depth of experience at P&G make him uniquely qualified to lead the company."
Reuters quoted Lafley as saying McDonald decided on his own to retire and the Board then approached him "days ago" about returning to his old job.
The move comes as some investors have pushed for faster improvements from the world's largest household products maker.
Ackman has been publicly critical of McDonald. In a "Squawk Box" interview last October he said the company had "stumbled" under the CEO's leadership and he had met with the Board to express his concerns.
On Lafley's appointment, Ackman told CNBC: "A.G. Lafley is one of the greatest CEOs and we're delighted to have him back."
In a statement released Friday, Ackman said: "A.G. is a legendary CEO. We expect that he will quickly make progress to accelerate the turnaround of the business. This was the right move by the board."
During McDonald's tenure the stock was up 54 percent, but that underperformed the S&P 500's 80 percent advance. It also lagged other consumer product companies.
In January, the company reported better than expected earnings and revenue, a performance that was seen as giving McDonald some breathing room.
(Read more: Procter & Gamble Tops Estimates, Raises Outlook)
The strong results prompted CNBC's Jim Cramer to predict P&G could be the "best stock in the Dow." He also praised McDonald for answering his critics. "I like this guy, he means business."
Analyst Ali Dibadj told Dow Jones he thinks Lafley is a "great CEO." While McDonald's departure wasn't expected, Dibadj said, "Clearly the Board had had enough."
P&G also confirmed its previous fiscal year and fourth quarter guidance. Its fiscal year ends on June 30.
- By CNBC.com and Reuters