The son of Galeries Lafayette's chairman, Philippe Houzé, is to head the French retail group's department store branch in what is widely-viewed as an unexpected announcement.

Nicolas Houzé replaces Paul Delaoutre, who had been in the job since 2003, with immediate effect. He had previously been deputy managing director of the division.

In a statement, Galeries Lafayette paid tribute to Delaoutre for his contribution in developing the retail brand, adding that he now wished to "take on new challenges."

Delaoutre has not commented publicly on the reasons for his departure, which, according to reports, took the retail chain's executive committee by surprise.

Last month, Galeries Lafayette made a counter-offer to acquire its French rival Printemps, after an earlier EUR1.8bn bid was turned down.