Wetherspoon shares hit as execs leave

JD Wetherspoon yesterday surprised investors by announcing the departure of two of its top executives.

Finance director Keith Down and chief operating officer Paul Harbottle are to leave the pubs group “in due course” said a statement, which offered no explanation for the sudden shake-up.

Wetherspoon’s has weathered the economic downturn well, with Down considered a top executive by the City.

Hugh-Guy Lorriman at Seymour Pierce said: “The news is frankly disappointing. Keith Down has a high profile in front of investors and the analyst community.”

He added: “We felt he was impressive in his role. He has been a strong and steady pair of hands.”

Down joined JD Wetherspoon in January 2008 from Tesco. He was also company secretary.

In a note to clients, Evolution Securities analyst Nigel Parson said: “The announcement... has raised our curiosity and joint departure announcements like this are most unusual.”

Parson added: “It’s an uncompromising culture at Wetherspoon and you either like it or you don’t.”

The company’s shares fell 12.5p to 442.2p. Deputy finance director Kirk Davis will take over the top finance function on an interim basis.
Chief executive John Hutson would assume Harbottle’s responsibilities “on an ongoing basis”, the company said in its statement.