Williams-Sonoma Inc issued a disappointing earnings forecast and announced the retirement of Sharon McCollam, who served as both chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

The news sent shares of the operator of Williams-Sonoma cookware stores and the Pottery Barn furnishings chain down more than 4 percent, and raised concerns about the future of the company without a seasoned retail executive like McCollam.

McCollam is one of the smartest, highly skilled, hardest working and widely respected executives in the entire U.S. retail industry, and losing someone of her caliber would be a setback for any company, particularly one planning to ramp up its strategic initiatives, BB&T Capital Markets analyst Anthony Chukumba said.

McCollam is also retiring from the company's board.

The home goods chain -- which is in the middle of a range of initiatives including boosting its e-commerce efforts, expanding its global footprint and its West Elm store chain -- named Julie Whalen, senior vice president, corporate controller and treasurer, as CFO until it finds a permanent replacement.

Whalen has big shoes to fill, Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strasser said.

The company forecast full-year earnings of $2.37 to $2.47 a share. Analysts on average were looking for $2.47, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Williams-Sonoma shares were down $1.50 to $36.34 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Dhanya Skariachan; editing by John Wallace)