The Business On: Stephen Billingham, chairman-elect, Punch Taverns

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The Independent Online

Can he pull a decent pint?

That's not what Punch has in mind for Mr Billingham. It has been through difficult times of late and is planning a radical demerger this summer. It will split in two, with Punch operating as a tenanted-pub operator, while a new company, Spirit, is spun off as a managed-pub business. Mr Billingham will chair the former.

What's the difference?

Tenanted pubs are run, pretty much independently, by landlords and managed pubs are operated centrally. The former have been struggling in the post-smoking ban environment, finding it ever more difficult to compete with the chains that increasingly sell more food than drink. So Mr Billingham has his work cut out for him.

Does he know the business?

Not really; he's been hired as anumbers man. He is best known for a five-year stint as the finance director of British Energy, the nuclear power operator. He stood down in 2009 after the company was sold to France's EDF.

What's he been doing since?

Various things, including working on the financial restructuring of Connaught, the struggling outsourcing company. He's also a non-executive director at Urenco, the company which enriches uranium for the nuclear sector.

Scary stuff.

Absolutely; at least dealing with booze, crisps and nuts is a bit safer. And the Urenco role, where Mr Billingham is chairman of the audit committee, can be tricky politically too: the company is owned byseveral European governments.

What's the plan at Punch?

We shall see after the demerger. But investors will be reassured by Mr Billingham's appointment. He is credited with having been the most important hands on the tiller during the turnaround of once-struggling WS Atkins, where he was finance director before he worked with British Energy. And he'll work with Chris Bell, the former chief executive of Ladbrokes, whose appointment at Punch as a non-executive director was also announced yesterday.