Premier chief exec in surprise exit
Michael Clarke, the chief executive leading the turnaround of Premier Foods, is leaving after less than 18 months in the role. He will be replaced by Gavin Darby, a former executive from Coca-Cola and Vodafone.
The food group said Mr Clarke (right), who joined Premier in 2011, had told the board he was considering moving on to other opportunities and said he would step down immediately, remaining on hand to help ensure a smooth transition.
Mr Darby, who was most recently chief executive of Cable Wireless Worldwide (CWW), will start early next month. He spent 15 years at Coca-Cola before moving to Vodafone in 2001 and oversaw the £1 billion sale of CWW last year to the FTSE 100 telecoms group.
Premier chairman David Beever said of Mr Darby: “His strong background [in fast-moving consumer groups] and management track record make him the ideal candidate . . .”
Analysts at Investec said they saw the “surprise change of leadership as unhelpful to Premier’s stability and organic growth prospects”.
“With its financial restructuring complete, we think that consistency and longevity of leadership was going to be critical to [Premier’s] prosperity,” they added. “We now anticipate a further period of uncertainty.”
Premier this month said it would meet the market’s profit expectations for last year, after a “solid” fourth quarter – when grocery makers generate the biggest slices of their earnings.
Once Britain’s biggest foodmaker, Premier has been selling assets to pay down debt, cutting jobs and trying to improve its relationships with retailers under Mr Clarke.
Premier last year agreed to sell its Branston pickle brand for £92.5 million to Mizkan, a Japanese food company, taking its total disposals to £370 million. The stream of asset sales followed a £1.4 billion refinancing agreed last year, under which Premier was required to make significant disposals. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013