THE “glass ceiling” blocking top female directors from running Britain’s biggest businesses was breached again yesterday when B&Q-owner Kingfisher announced a change at the helm.
Sir Ian Cheshire, group chief executive for seven years, is to be replaced by Veronique Laury, currently the head of the tradesmen’s and DIY retailer’s main French business, Castorama.
Laury, who has worked for Kingfisher for 11 years, will start in January and joins Royal Mail’s Moya Greene, Carolyn McCall of EasyJet, Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco and Liv Garfield of utility Severn Trent as female chief executives of companies in the top-flight FTSE 100 index. Angela Ahrendts stepped down as the boss of Footsie-listed fashion retailer Burberry earlier this year.
The management change was announced as Kingfisher, Europe’s biggest home improvement group, posted flat half-year profits of £364 million on sales of £5.8 billion in the six months to 2 August.
The company revealed it had been hit by the slowing economy and housing market in France, although better conditions in the UK and Ireland saw that region’s like-for-like sales rise 4.4 per cent and retail profit up 17.7 per cent to £166m.
Cheshire, 55, ennobled in the New Year’s Honours list, said: “Having taken over the leadership role in the depths of the financial crisis I am proud that the Kingfisher of today is a much stronger business, with a more profitable and sustainable model.”
He said he had not come under any pressure from the board to step down, but added: “It became clear that there needed to be a five-year commitment for the next phase and that, realistically from my point of view, 12 years (as chief executive) was not going to be part of my plan.”
Laury, 49, who has held several roles at B&Q, Castorama and at group level, was “superbly qualified for the job”, Cheshire said.
City analysts said the shake-up at the top of Kingfisher could have implications for Kevin O’Byrne, managing director of B&Q,, who some saw as the next likely chief executive.
Laury is expected to oversee the expansion of the Screwfix and Brico brands into new markets, integrate the newly acquired brand Mr Bricolage, and complete the plan to develop common brands across the British-French group.
B&Q’s sales in the UK and Ireland rose 4 per cent to £2bn in the half-year after strong demand for outdoor seasonal and building products due to the good summer. Sales of showroom products such as kitchens and bathrooms fell 1.5 per cent, reflecting less promotional activity in Q2.
Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The new chief executive faces no easy task. France remains at the centre of the eurozone’s difficulties, a recent slowing in UK house prices could take the shine of B&Q going forward, while management itself has pointed to a slowing Chinese property market.”
Cheshire repeated his opposition to Scottish independence, saying a Yes vote in next week’s referendum would lead to higher prices for consumers and make the country less attractive for investors.