Sunday 31 March 2019 5:00 pm

Babcock could appoint Rolls-Royce director Cairnie as first woman chair within weeks

Defence giant Babcock is planning to appoint a female director at Rolls-Royce as its next chair, according to reports.

Ruth Cairnie, a non-executive director on the engine maker’s board and former executive at oil giant Shell, could be named the contractor’s chair within weeks.

Read more: Defence giant Babcock's chairman to step down after decade in charge

Sky News reported the company, which maintains Britain’s nuclear submarines, has picked Cairnie out as the preferred choice to replace outgoing chairman Mike Turner.

If the appointment is confirmed, it would make Cairnie Babcock's first female chair.

Babcock is part of a select group of government suppliers which holds large scale, critical defence contracts, alongside weapons maker BAE Systems and engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce.

Cairnie would be likely to leave her post at Rolls-Royce if she took the job at Babcock. She also sits on the board of Associated British Foods, which owns Primark, and has been a director at Keller Group, a construction industry contractor.

Babcock has struggled in recent years, since it was kicked out of the FTSE 100 for a perceived over reliance on MoD contracts in late 2017, amid a growing fear about support services firms as Carillion approached its January 2018 collapse.

It has since been newly classified as an aerospace and defence firm, but shares have dropped 43 per cent in the last year.

The firm, which holds 128 government contracts including for nuclear and marine defence, has also struggled since an anonymous analyst’s note questioned the company’s relationship with the MoD late last year.

In January, Mike Turner said he would step down as chairman in July after a decade in charge.

Turner, who has been at the company for twenty years first as a non-executive director, said he would leave the role at the close of the firm's annual general meeting later this year.

Read more: Babcock ‘may never know’ who was behind report that shocked shares

City A.M. understands Babcock hopes to name Turner’s replacement before the July AGM.

Babcock declined to comment.