LONDON — Michael Metcalf, Burberry’s chief operating and financial officer, will step down in March in a move the company said was personal, not political.

Burberry plc said in a statement Tuesday that Metcalf, 51, would remain with the company to the end of its fiscal year on March 31, 2004. He has been with Burberry since August 1998.

Burberry chief executive Rose Marie Bravo, who asked Metcalf to join her team five years ago, said, “We will be sorry to see Mike go, but we respect both his decision and the thoughtfulness with which he is orchestrating his departure.

“In his five-year tenure, Mike has made a very real contribution to Burberry, overseeing significant operational change as well as preparing the group for last year’s partial IPO. I wish him every success in the future,” added Bravo.

Metcalf said in the statement that, after careful reflection, “I have come to the decision that now is a good time to look for new opportunities outside the group.”

A company spokeswoman added that Burberry has recently begun talking to headhunters in a search for Metcalf’s successor. “We’ll be looking both inside and outside the company,” she said.

Sources close to the firm said Metcalf, who had previously been chief executive of Thorn, the U.K.-based electrical appliances and rentals group, is actively looking for a chief executive position.

“He wasn’t ousted, and there’s nothing sinister about his departure. He wants a career change, and a new challenge, possibly working for a company outside fashion,” said one source.

Sagra Maceira de Rosen, luxury goods analyst at J.P. Morgan in London, called Metcalf a “very, very good cfo and chief operating officer. He knows the company very well, so his departure will be a loss. That said, he’s not leaving until March and he’s managing the departure very well, so I don’t think Burberry will have too much of a problem in the end.”

Metcalf joined Burberry shortly after leaving Thorn and only a year after Bravo herself joined the firm from Saks Fifth Avenue to rejuvenate the traditional British brand. Since last summer’s IPO, Burberry has gone from strength to strength, bucking market trends. As reported, Burberry’s revenues in the three months ended June 30 rose 18 percent, with retail sales up 33 percent, thanks to a raft of store openings in the past year and last year’s acquisition of the Burberry distributor in South Korea.

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