Shares in Imperial plummeted 15% reaching nine-year lows last week after the FTSE 100 group warned that this year's revenue and earnings would be much lower than previously guided in the wake of US scares over vaping.
Cooper, who has been CEO for nine years and at the company for over a decade before that, will leave once the board has found “a suitable successor”.
Chairman Mark Williamson, also due to depart after a nine-year term limit was set by a new UK corporate governance code, thanked Cooper for her “tremendous” contribution to realising the brand’s “long-term growth potential” during her tenure.
Since her appointment in May 2010, Cooper halved Imperial’s roster of cigarette brands to ensure a higher quality of growth and launched its US expansion with the US$7bn acquisition of Lorillard in 2014 and further subsequent investment ploughed into its Blu vaping brand.
Cooper’s departure comes amid significant investor pressure to sell off unprofitable brands after shareholders complained that April’s planned sale of the company’s premium cigar business did not go far enough.
The company whose brands include Golden Virginia and Lambert & Butler has suffered as consumers are switching to e-cigarettes or quitting smoking.
Analysts say the timing of the move is curious, given the sector’s troubled times with the US threatening to ban e-cigarettes from the market after reports of a series of young people’s deaths were linked to vaping.
Michael Hewson at CMC Markets said that with tobacco on the road to “existential crisis”, for Imperial “looking for a new CEO would appear to be the least of its problems”.