updated 10/4/2004 10:32:38 AM ET 2004-10-04T14:32:38

Office Depot Inc. chairman and CEO Bruce Nelson has resigned, and former National Football League president and Dillon Read executive Neil Austrian was named Monday to temporarily replace him as head of the second-largest office supply retailer.

Austrian, a board member of Office Depot and a takeover target since 1988, will serve as interim chairman and CEO while the executive search firm of Heidrick & Struggles seeks a permanent replacement.

Nelson left after four years, saying, “I firmly believe that the company’s best years are ahead.”

Office Depot lowered its earnings expectations for the third quarter and for the year last month, citing lower sales because of hurricane disruptions and soft European business. It is second to Staples Inc. in office supply retailing.

James Heskett, Office Depot’s lead director, said Office Depot was “both fortunate and gratified” to have Austrian step in.

Austrian said he was committed to continuing the company’s strategic direction for expansion and financial performance.

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