Ex-Reckitt CFO Day might make exceedingly good Premier chair

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Colin Day is in the frame to become the new chairman of Mr Kipling and Bisto-maker Premier Foods, Sky News learns.

A former director of Cadbury and finance chief at Reckitt Benckiser is among the leading contenders to chair Premier Foods, the owner of Mr Kipling and Angel Delight.

Sky News has learnt that Colin Day, who left his last full-time job as chief executive of Essentra, a manufacturer of cigarette filters, in 2016, is one of a small number of serious candidates for the job.

The vacancy has arisen at Premier, one of Britain’s biggest branded food producers, after the unexpected decision of Keith Hamill to step down from the role last month.

Mr Hamill had been in the job for ‎less than two years.

The appointment of a new chairman will represent a critical moment for a company which has been perennially hamstrung by its large debt burden and pension deficit.

Premier, which also owns the Ambrosia creamed rice and custard brand, announced nearly six months ago that it was launching a strategic review aimed at unlocking value for shareholders.

Since then, little of substance has emerged from the company other than a further reshuffling of the deckchairs in its boardroom.

It remains without a permanent chief executive since Gavin Darby’s departure earlier this year, with finance director Alastair Murray assuming the role on an interim basis.

Insiders have said that the search for a new chief executive and the strategic review have effectively been stalled by the change of chairman.

The arrival of a successor to Mr Hamill is expected to provide fresh impetus to those ahead of the company’s most important trading period towards the end of the year.

Premier’s larder of brands also includes Bisto, Loyd Grossman, Paxo and Sharwood’s‎, while it also has a licence to make cakes under the Cadbury brand.

It has one of the best-known food portfolios in the UK, with products such as Mr Kipling, known for its “exceedingly good cakes” slogan.

Mr Day would be a logical choice to chair the company given his experience of large consumer goods groups such as Cadbury and Reckitt.

He is also an experienced dealmaker, having disposed of numerous subsidiaries during his executive career, which the Premier board is likely to regard as relevant given the ongoing realignment of his portfolio.

One source suggested that if he did take the Premier job, he would be likely to have to relinquish his role as a board member at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr Day is currently a non-executive director at Meggitt, the aerospace company, and has sat on the boards of blue-chip corporate names such as easyJet and WPP Group.

Premier’s new chairman will not necessarily have a warm reception from all of his or her new boardroom colleagues, however.

Earlier this ‎year, representatives of Oasis Management and Paulson, two large shareholders in Premier, were appointed as directors in an attempt to help arrest the decline in its value.

Long-suffering investors have never forgiven Premier for rejecting a series of approaches from north American rival McCormick in 2016, the last of which proposed offering 60p-a-share for the London-listed company.

The equity is now worth little more than half that amount, even though the board at the time suggested that McCormick’s interest “significantly undervalued” Premier.

Oasis mounted an effort to remove Mr Darby last year, losing the vote by 59% to 41%, but then saw him leave not long after.

Premier’s most recent trading update, published last month, disclosed first-quarter sales up 1.1%, with sales of branded products up 2.9% in the same period.

In the UK, those figures were 2.6% and 4.9% respectively, with increased marketing investment in Mr Kipling and Batchelors partly credited for the improved performance.

Shares in Premier are, nevertheless, down by more than a quarter in the last year, giving the company a market value of just under £275m.

During Thursday afternoon trading, the shares were down just over 1.5% at 31.9p.

A spokeswoman for Premier declined to comment on the search for a new chairman.

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