Department store group Debenhams said its chief executive Michael Sharp would step down sometime next year following media reports that investors wanted a change at the top of the company. 

The retailer said Sharp, who has worked for Debenhams or its predecessor, the Burton Group, for 30 years and became CEO in September 2011, had always intended to serve a five year term. 

"I hope being transparent about my intentions will stop recent speculation becoming a distraction, allowing me and the Debenhams team to focus on delivering our strategy and the important Christmas trading period," Sharp said. 

Media reports last month said several of Debenhams' biggest investors were unhappy with the retailer's performance and had pushed for a board shake-up. 

Debenhams said Sharp will remain as CEO during the Christmas trading period and into 2016 and will assist the board in the process of identifying his successor, with internal and external candidates to be considered. 

Sharp has cut back on promotions, strengthened online ordering and delivery options, and added concessions in under-used store space to secure higher returns, and increase shopper numbers. He has also built the firm's international presence. 

However, Debenhams has seen little sales and profit growth in recent years, while its shares, though up a third over the last year, are well down on their November 2012 peak of 124 pence.

The firm, which trails John Lewis by annual sales, said today it made an underlying pretax profit of £113.5m in the year to August 29, in line with forecasts and up 7.3% on the previous year. 

"We have had an encouraging start to the year, with strong new product launches which have been well received by our customers, and we are in good shape to build on last year's strong performance over peak trading," Sharp stated.