McGann stepping down at troubled Aryzta

Cantillon: Rare failure in storied career of corporate heavyweight

There’s a saying in politics that all careers inevitably end in failure. In general, the same cannot be said of business where most corporate grandees tend to retire at the time of their choosing even if, with hindsight, they may have dallied too long.

It's something worth considering as corporate heavyweight Gary McGann signals he is stepping aside at Aryzta.

Not that McGann's career is ending. He is still chairman at Paddy Power parent Flutter Entertainment, and serves on a host on non-listed boards as well as charity Barnardos.

Of course, as all too often with Aryzta, it was what wasn’t said that shouted the loudest. The company announcement that it had lined up a successor to McGann came before any announcement that the chairman was actually planning to step aside.


Elephant in room

And it also failed to address the elephant in the room. McGann had said last month that he would step aside at what seems certain to be a feisty extraordinary general meeting in September if a deal for the takeover of the business had not been struck by that time. Now he is going but there was no official clarification that the retirement means a deal is now off the table, or otherwise. It was left to the market to make its own mind up.

It being Aryzta, which has no credit left in the bank of perception, they were unimpressed.

Raised eyebrows

There were raised eyebrows in corporate circles back in 2016 when McGann took on the Aryzta gig. At the time, the company was already in the doghouse, having lost half its value in the previous two years.

It wasn't as though the former Smurfit Kappa chief executive did not have enough corporate work on his plate at the time. And, having survived the debacle of Anglo Irish Bank with his reputation intact, it always seemed unnecessary to be taking on a challenge of the scale of Aryzta.

A year into the gig, he admitted to a degree of buyer’s remorse. Now, with activist shareholders hunting him down, he’s clearly decided there is little to be gained from digging in his heels.