The boss of Britain’s biggest pub company has announced his decision to step down after nine years with the Staffordshire group.

Giles Thorley, chief executive of Punch Taverns, is seen as one of the pioneers of large modern British pub groups, having grown Punch to the leader in the sector during his tenure.

Burton-on-Trent-based Punch said it was “well advanced” in finding his successor and confirmed there would be an orderly handover.

It is not clear what he plans to do after leaving Punch, but it is thought his next move will not be in the pub industry.

News of his departure was described as “unexpected and a shock” by Seymour Pierce leisure sector analyst Hugh-Guy Lorriman, although shares rose by more than 2% following the announcement.

“Giles Thorley is synonymous with Punch Taverns and is a key founder of the group,” he added.

Mr Thorley’s decision to quit comes after a tough period for the company, with the whole industry having been hammered in recent years by the smoking ban, the recession and rises in alcohol duty.

Mr Thorley said: “Having grown Punch into Britain’s largest pub company, the past two years we have faced the worst recession for a generation and significant structural and political challenges to the industry.

“We have made good progress in reshaping our business and balance sheet, stabilised our operating performance and have taken the right actions to position Punch to achieve long term sustainable success.”

Punch, which has more than 7,600 leased and tenanted pubs, plunged to annual losses of £405.7 million in the year to last August after slashing £663 million from the value of its estate.