Nicandro Durante will step down as the chief executive of the British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the ‘big five’ tobacco companies.

Durante, a BAT veteran of 37 years, has been helming the company for the last eight years as the CEO. He will retire on April 1.

The decision comes in the wake of a sector-wide share price decline prompted by investor concern over slowing sales growth.

The Board of the company said it has identified a successor to Durante and will make the announcement in due course. Durante said he will stay for the next six months to ensure an orderly handover.

ichard Burrows, Chairman of BAT, credited Durante for the successful establishment of BAT’s potentially reduced-risk products business and the acquisition of Reynolds American.

“Through this period of great change, Nicandro has substantially grown the business, delivering consistent strong growth in both earnings and dividends during his tenure,” Burrows said.

Durante joined BAT’s subsidiary in Brazil, Souza Cruz in 1981 and has risen through the ranks to become the chief operating officer in 2008 and chief executive three years later.

Durante said: “It has been a privilege to have led such a great company for the last eight years. We now have a growing potentially reduced-risk product business fully embedded in our organisation and the integration of Reynolds has been successfully completed.”