SCOTRAIL operator FirstGroup has launched the search for a new chairman after banking veteran John McFarlane yesterday revealed he is quitting the transport group next year to take on the chairmanship of Barclays bank.
McFarlane will take up the Barclays post in April at a salary of £800,000 a year. He is also stepping down next year as chairman of insurance giant Aviva, where he will be succeeded by current board member Sir Adrian Montague.
Scots-born McFarlane, who was chief executive of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group between 1997 and 2007, only became chairman of Aberdeen-based FirstGroup at the start of this year, replacing Aberdeen Asset Management chief Martin Gilbert.
In July 2012 he took the chairmanship at Aviva – which employs a total of 2,500 at two Scottish sites in Perth and Bishopbriggs – and made some tough decisions to turn around an under-performing business after a shareholder revolt had ousted chief executive Andrew Moss the previous May.
Changes included hiring Mark Wilson as the insurer’s new chief executive in January 2013, and since then he has overseen an improvement in the group’s fortunes.
FirstGroup said senior independent director Drummond Hall had begun the process to “identify a strong replacement” for McFarlane, aged 67.
“It is unfortunate that John will be unable to see his tenure through at FirstGroup, but we all understand the importance of the role at Barclays he has been asked to take on,” Hall said.
McFarlane, who will step down as FirstGroup chairman at the annual shareholder meeting in July, commented: “It is with regret that I must take the difficult step of leaving FirstGroup so early in my tenure.”
He added: “I am, though, satisfied with the progress we have made in appointing a strong board of directors, in achieving stability, in testing the business plan with the team, and in endorsing the way ahead and we will continue to build on this progress as we go forward.”
One FirstGroup insider said yesterday: “There will be a formal robust process to identify a successor, and obviously we have plenty of time to do that before John goes.”
Barclays issued a statement saying that it was “grateful to Aviva and FirstGroup for agreeing to release Mr McFarlane to take on this important role”.
At the lender, McFarlane will replace Sir David Walker, who stepped into the chairman’s seat in 2012 following the bank’s role in the Libor-rigging scandal that saw the departure of senior executives, including chief executive Bob Diamond and chief operating officer Jerry del Missier.
Sir David said that McFarlane was “an enormously experienced and respected banker with global experience of both retail and investment banking, and he will bring great leadership, integrity and knowledge to the role”.
Barclays is in the midst of its own turnaround as chief executive Antony Jenkins is shrinking the business to focus on core profitable assets.
Mike Trippitt, banking analyst at Numis Securities, said: “My perception is [McFarlane] is down to earth and a pretty tough operator with a lot of international experience. It looks like a good choice.”