The group, which runs a fleet of about 2,500 iconic Eddie Stobart trucks, said Scots-born Unilever veteran Iain Ferguson will take the helm at the start of October, ending a three-month search for a permanent chair.
Stobart stoked controversy in January when deputy chief executive Avril Palmer-Baunack, who joined the group last year when it bought car transporter specialist Autologic, was promoted to executive chairwoman after the abrupt resignation of non-executive chair Rodney Baker-Bates.
However, Stobart axed the role of executive chair just two months later, saying it was “no longer appropriate” amid improved trading, and non-executive director Paul Orchard-Lisle stepped up to become interim chairman in May.
Ferguson, who was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Cupar, joined Unilever in 1977 after studying chemistry and psychology at St Andrews University. During his time with the consumer goods giant, he oversaw its tea plantations and ran the Birds Eye Wall’s frozen foods business, before joining ingredients maker Tate & Lyle in 2003.
He left Tate & Lyle six years later and is now a non-executive director at infrastructure group Balfour Beatty and bakery chain Greggs, as well as lead non-executive at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
Ferguson said Stobart has a “fascinating portfolio” of businesses and the group’s chief executive, Andrew Tinkler, added: “He will provide the group with experienced leadership at a pivotal point in its development.”
Baker-Bates, who had stayed on as a non-executive after resigning as chairman, will step down from the board “in due course” along with Orchard Lisle once other directors are appointed.
The Carlisle-based firm, which last year ditched plans to raise £25 million through its first retail bond offering, also told investors yesterday that it has made good progress during the six months to August in the face of changeable weather.
Tinkler said: “The transport and distribution division will achieve a solid result for the period as a whole, despite swings in retail volumes due to the poor spring weather followed by very hot periods in June and July.
“Managing unforeseen volatility is challenging, but the investment we have made in our planning systems allows us to meet our customers’ needs.”
Stobart also owns airports at Carlisle and Southend and sources timber for biomass power plants. Last month, it secured a 15-year contract, worth about £75m, to supply recycled wood for a combined heat-and-power biomass station in Northern Ireland, which is being backed with £20m from the Edinburgh-based Green Investment Bank.
Work to expand the terminal at Southend airport in Essex is almost complete, and Tinkler said cash flows are improving on the back of growing demand from budget airline EasyJet.
Stobart’s first-half results are due to be posted on 24 October.