Richard Hodgson has resigned as chief executive of PizzaExpress, the Hony Capital-backed group, which operates over 600 sites globally, due to ”personal reasons”, MCA understands.

Hodgson, the former group commercial director at supermarket chain Morrisons, joined the then Gondola Group-backed chain in April 2013.

During his time with PizzaExpress, Hodgson oversaw its sale to Hony Capital, one of China’s largest private equity firms, in a deal valued at c£900m; the addition of 150 new restaurants; the acquisition of its international franchise operations in the UAE and the Far East; and the development and growth of its business in China.

He has also overseen the group’s recent return to like-for-like sales growth; the rejuvenation of its management team; its link up with Deliveroo; and the acquisition and subsequent roll out of the Firezza brand.

He is to be replaced by the group’s current chairman Jinlong Wang, who has also been interim chief executive of its China business for the last year.

He will oversee the next stage of the company’s growth

Wang was the former legal counsel to Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and is a director of Hony.

He led the team that launched Starbucks in China and oversaw the roll out of 2,500 sites under the brand in the country.

Wang, who will be based in the UK, said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to extend our thanks to Richard for his leadership and his contribution to our success over the last four years. We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavours. This is a hugely exciting time for PizzaExpress. We have a cherished brand, fantastic people, and a special heritage, but it is the enormous opportunity I see before us which excites me the most. Our 14,000 people and our customers will be my focus and together we at PizzaExpress will create an exciting and delightful customer experience that is second to none, and serves the communities in which we live and operate. Excellence in everything we do is what we aspire to. We have a strategy across all our 14 territories to transform PizzaExpress into a global brand. We will drive growth across all our markets through brand development, innovation and improving our customer relevance in each key market in which we operate. The UK remains central to our strategy, and continued success and investment there is the foundation for developing the brand internationally. I am greatly looking forward to the future as we embark on what is a truly ambitious programme for global expansion, underpinned by our people and our customers around the world.”

PizzaExpress currently has 34 sites in China and 15 in Hong Kong. It plans to open 250 restaurants by 2020 in mainland China.

Earlier this month, PizzaExpress reported a 0.9% decline in like-for-like sales across its UK and Ireland estate for the 52 weeks ended 1 January 2017 amidst a ”softening casual dining market”.

The group said that it had made a solid start to this year, with like-for-like sales back into growth in UK and Ireland during the first quarter.

However, it said the market remains challenging and that actions were “in place to help mitigate UK sector-wide cost pressures”.

Group turnover for the year, in which the company opened 16 new sites within the UK and Ireland, grew by 9.8% to £509.7m, whilst group EBITDA climbed 1.1% to £102.6m.

The company, which sells over 34 million pizzas in UK supermarkets every year, said that its international business performed well - delivering “strong growth across all territories” - with 21 new site openings, including four franchises.