Co-operative Group appoints former Asda man Allan Leighton as chairman

Emma Haslett
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The appointment is part of a massive turnaround operation for the Co-op (Source: Getty)

The Co-operative Group has brought in former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton to chair its board.

Leighton will take over with immediate effect from Ursula Lidbetter, who was parachuted into the role at the end of 2013 after then-chairman Len Wardle stepped down.

It's another string for Leighton to add to his bow: as well as running Asda until 2000, he's previously served as chairman of Royal Mail and is currently chief executive of jewellery retailer Pandora, although is due to step down on 1 March.

His appointment follows that of Sir Christopher Kelly as senior independent director of the company's group board in November last year. There are now four spaces left, which are expected to be filled before the group's annual general meeting in May.

The move could be the final piece in the puzzle for the Co-op's turnaround, after it became the centre of a governance scandal in 2013. A blundering appearance by former chairman Paul Flowers in front of a Treasury Select Committee kicked off a chain of events that led to his arrest on drugs offences, the resignations of its chief executive and chairman as well as Lord Myners, who was brought in by the government to save the company, followed by the discovery of a £1.5bn capital hole in the Co-op Bank's balance sheet.

Eventually the crisis resulted in a total overhaul of the company's corporate governance structure, with its unruly board being stripped down from 18 members to seven in October.

Proposals submitted by Lord Myners before his resignation included a two board structure made up of an independent, non-executive board composed of 11 members, alongside a 100-member council with the power to hold the board to account for poor business performance. A senate, elected by the council, will "act as a nexus for interactions between the council, the board, the executive and members".

Richard Pennycook, the group's chief executive, said it was a "testament of the strength of the Co-operative brand.... that a figure of Allan's standing has chosen to join the group".

Leighton added:

I grew up with this business, because my father ran the local Co-op, so I have a very real understanding of the importance of The Co-operative to local communities and a strong sense of what the society stands for. I look forward to working with our members, customers and colleagues as we continue the crucial work to rebuild The Co-operative Group and restore it to its rightful place at the heart of communities up and down the UK.

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