Waldo H. Burnside, president of the Woodward & Lothrop department stores, resigned yesterday to become vice chairman and chief operating officer of Carter Hawley Hale Stores in Los Angeles.

David Mullen, executive vice president of Woodies, will succeed Burnside as president and chief operating officer.

Robert Mulligan, executive vice president, moves up to vice chairman and chief administrative officer. Both will report to Woodies' chairman and chief executive, Edwin Hoffman.

Burnside will become the No. 2 man at Carter Hawley Hale, which runs 140 department and high fashion speciality stores and three smaller chains.

Carter Hawley Hale owns Neiman-Marcus, The Broadway, The Emporium, John Wanamaker, Bergdorf Goodman, Capwell's Weinstock's, Thalhimers (in Richmond) plus Walden Books, Contempo Casuals and Sunset House.

Calling the chance to oversee the nationwide retail empire "a super opportunity," Burnside added, "There is no single store in the country I can imagine managing that would compare with this."

With the departure of Burnside, Woodward & Lothrop will continue to be run by an "office of the chairman" -- a team of executives headed by Hoffman.

Hoffman said the strength of Woodward & Lothrop's management was shown by the relatively minor shuffling at the top that followed Burnside's resignation.

"When Waldo told me the news it shocked the dickens out of me," he added, "I didn't decide who would replace him until the next day."

Mullen, the new Woodies president, is a 44-year-old retailing executive who began his career with the Higbee department stores in Cleveland and joined Woodward & Lothrop in 1972 as divisional vice president. Only a year ago he became executive vice president -- merchandising and stores, the person in charge of operating and stocking the Woodies chain.

Mulligan, 41, came to Washington from Gimbels in New York in 1971 as Woodward & Lothrop's treasurer and chief financial officer. Last year he became executive vice president and took on operations responsibilities.

Mullen, the president and Mulligan, the vice chairman "will be at about the same level" on the company's organizational chart. Hoffman said.

Mullen and Mulligan predicted few changes in the highly successful Woodware & Lothrop operation. "We'll continue to do the same things and hopefully do them better," Mullen said.

For Burnside, however, the new job will bring vastly widened responsibilities in a newly created position at Carter Hawley Hale.

As chief operating officer, he will oversee the management of the parent company's dozen divisions. Which run with a high degree of autonomy.

Burnside will report to Philip M. Hawley, president and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange company. CAPTION:

Pictures 1 and 2, Woodies' top executives: Robert Mulligan, vice chairman; Chairman Edwin Hoffman; David Mullen, president. Waldo Burnside. Photos By Frank Johnston -- The Washington Post