Stobart’s chair hits the road after two months

 
Marion Dakers
HAULAGE firm Stobart Group has axed the role of executive chairman just over two months after promoting Avril Palmer-Baunack to the job.

The company said that its trading had improved in recent months, meaning Palmer-Baunack’s executive role was “no longer appropriate”.

Palmer-Baunack, who will stay on the board while a replacement is found, is believed to be looking for other executive jobs.

She took the job in January, working alongside chief executive Andrew Tinkler, having joined Stobart as part of its purchase of Autologic in September.

Those close to the firm played down suggestions that the reshuffle was sparked by boardroom disagreements, and market watchers were left scratching their heads.

“In our view, this is a rather odd explanation,” said Espirito Santo analyst Gerald Khoo, who has a sell rating on the stock, in a note to investors. “If anything, today’s announcement raises yet more question marks over corporate governance.”

The firm encountered criticism from shareholder groups including Manifest for its decision to promote Palmer-Baunack, which goes against corporate governance rules on separating the board from the executive team.

Four non-executive directors have left Stobart in the past year.

Senior independent director Alan Kelsey said yesterday he wants to leave the board at the same time as Palmer-Baunack, which is expected to be on or near the firm’s full-year results on 16 May.

Kelsey’s departure has prompted former non-executive chairman Rodney Baker-Bates to postpone his retirement while the firm looks for replacement directors.

The firm also said yesterday it expects its results for the year to February to be “moderately ahead of market expectations”, sending its shares up 2.8 per cent.

The FTSE-listed company’s stock has fallen almost 40 per cent in the past year, hit by a profit warning in January and plans to close its struggling chilled goods division.

Stobart also announced yesterday that it has signed a new three-year contract with major customer Tesco, formalising the pair’s previous pay-as-you-go deal across nine distribution centres.