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Former Kingfisher and Lloyds exec Helen Weir to join John Lewis

Former 'chief executive-in-waiting' quits public companies for employee-owned group.

Helen Weir, who quit as head of Lloyds Banking Group's retail division after missing out on the top job last year, is to become finance director at the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership.

The decision will see Weir – who first took on a high-profile role during her tenure at retail group Kingfisher – accept a substantial pay cut and comes as her former colleague Ian Cheshire, who runs the B&Q owner, stands to bank more than £6m of free shares.

In 2010 Weir, an ambitious businesswoman once considered a chief executive-in-waiting, took home £1.5m from Lloyds, when her £625,000 salary was boosted by bonuses.

She is taking over at John Lewis from Marisa Cassoni, whose retirement was announced last year. John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield, is the group's highest-paid director, receiving between £700,001 and £750,000. The finance director is thought to earn £650,000-£675,000.

John Lewis is one of the few UK companies where the annual bonus round does not cause a furore, as all staff from the chairman to Saturday shelf-stackers receive the same percentage payout, which rises or falls in line with its financial fortunes. Weir, who will join in April, is considered a City heavyweight having spent nearly a decade at Kingfisher in senior finance roles before joining Lloyds as finance director in 2004. She moved over to head its retail division in 2008 but left shortly after António Horta-Osório's arrival in 2011.

A number of boardroom changes have been announced in the retail sector. Tesco said it had hired Deanna Oppenheimer, a former senior Barclays director, as a non-executive on Wednesday and on Thursday Kingfisher announced a shakeup of its top management team that eliminated its well regarded international director Peter Hogsted.

The £6.1m pay day for Kingfisher's Cheshire comes at the end of a four-year turnaround that he began when he took over as chief executive in 2008. At that time he was handed 1.2m shares linked to financial targets, as part of an incentive scheme that also required him to invest £400,000 in stock.

Cheshire, who earns a base salary of £810,000, will also be entitled to another shares windfall in April as another incentive scheme will be triggered. His share bonuses are worth a total of £6.1m.

The company said that under Cheshire's leadership profits at the group had more than doubled, with analysts pencilling in £800m for the financial year which ended last month. The company's stock market value has increased from £3bn to £6.5bn.

The shakeup at Kingfisher sees finance director Kevin O'Byrne replace Euan Sutherland as boss of B&Q. The latter is promoted to group chief operating officer while the head of its French business, Philippe Tible, also assumes responsibility for its operations in Poland and Russia. As he announced the management changes, Cheshire said the new lineup set the stage for Kingfisher's next phase of growth which would involve expansion in Poland, Russia, Turkey and Spain.

He was trying to assuage investors' concerns that the business, which has annual sales of nearly £11bn, has limited growth prospects - like-for-like sales at B&Q were down a worse-than-expected 2.5% in the 13 weeks to 28 January. Cheshire also believes Kingfisher can boost profit margins by making its retail chains, which include Brico Dépôt and Castorama in France, work together more closely, for example by buying ranges that can be sold in the UK as well as France and Poland. The shares closed down 90p at 278p.

Source : Zoe Wood – The Guardian

17 February 2012
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