Care First directors set to quit over new chairman

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The Independent Online
Care First, the UK's largest nursing home operator, is facing a boardroom bust up. Four of Care First's seven managing directors are expected to quit the nursing home group after its board on Wednesday refused to remove Keith Bradshaw as chairman and reinstate Chai Patel, the group's former chief executive.

In what was called "disastrous news" by one shareholder, Tony Heywood, Care First's corporate development director, is expected to leave next week.

In addition, Sushil Radra, managing director of the southern region, Phil McAuley, marketing director, and Des Kelley, director of human resources, are all understood to have either contacted headhunters or expressed a desire to leave.

All four individuals were originally directors at Mr Patel's former company, Court Cavendish, which merged with Mr Bradshaw's Takare group last year. Mr Heywood was formerly finance director at Court Cavendish. A leading institution said that the departures would be damaging: "If Heywood goes it will be a very serious blow. He is the only one of any competence left."

News of the potential walk out came as two leading shareholders said yesterday they were "incensed" and "angry" about about how SBC Warburg, joint adviser to Care First, had canvassed their views. Several said yesterday that they were considering calling an emergency meeting to make their views known.

Care First said on Wednesday that it had the support of the majority of the shareholders. However, several leading fund manager disagreed. "It feels like a stitch up," said one. "The remaining board and advisers have closed ranks. I have canvassed colleagues and there is a sense that Warburg pressured us. They told me that I was in a minority of one in wanting Chai to come back. When I said anything negative, they tried to re-word it to sound more positive."

A second said: "We clearly stated we didn't want Bradshaw as any kind of chairman and they ignored our views."

A spokesman for Warburg said: "We can only represent what we have been told. I have no doubt that we faithfully represented their views."

Institutions said yesterday it would be difficult to recruit a high calibre chief executive with Mr Bradshaw remaining as non-executive director and also acting chief executive pending a replacement.

"We think Chai is the best person to run this company. He has the best reputation in the industry."

A third substantial shareholder said: "Keith has got through three chief executives. He owns 8 per cent of the equity and is a domineering personality. Bradshaw may be non-executive chairman, but he will continue to dominate."

Paul Saper of healthcare consultant Laing & Buisson warned that the current management had a poor reputation in the industry.

"If Mr Bradshaw is staying on in any capacity it will damage the value of this company. Winning and keeping business will be much harder."

However, shareholders warned that reversing the board's decision would be difficult. "We choose battles we can win," said one. "This could be very messy and no one wants to stick their head above the parapet."