James Moore: Another man overboard as Centrica battles stormy sea

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The Independent Online

Outlook Now just how does that saying go about sinking ships and desertion?

But perhaps that's a little unfair. Centrica, the company that owns British Gas among other things, is just wobbling a bit.

All the same, there have been a few senior figures deserting it in recent times, and they were joined yesterday by Nick Luff. The finance chief, who joined from the cruise and ferry operator P&O at the same time as chief executive Sam Laidlaw, walked out of the door to take on the same role at publisher Reed Elsevier.

If this is because he was frustrated at Mr Laidlaw's limpet-like hold on the top job, why seek another finance position? A sideways move? Some might consider this a downward move. Reed is a much smaller business than Centrica after all.

However, unlike the gas giant, it is on an upward curve and in a rather more placid place. You'd hardly take a job as a finance director of a FTSE 100 company if you wanted a quiet life, but compared with the stormy sea at Centrica (November's profit warning, the controversy about Britain's messy energy market) Reed sits on a mill pond, buffeted only by a gentle breeze.

Committee hearings and a barrage of negative press coverage won't be appearing in Mr Luff's boardroom papers in future.

However, he will still be kept in the style to which he has no doubt become accustomed. FTSE companies never knowingly underpay their executives – as was demonstrated on Monday by Phil Bentley – another departure from Centrica of recent vintage – when Cable & Wireless Communications announced (for the second time) that it had bought £2.4m worth of free shares for him. He's enjoying a sunny life well out of the spotlight at his Miami base.

Which leaves chief executive Sam Laidlaw to bed in a new team in cohorts with a new chairman, given Sir Roger Carr's departure for the same role at BAE Systems (that one's a case of out of the frying pan).

That team will have to get through some nasty squalls, both political and business, and its members don't have much time to grow into their new roles – not if they want to deter investors from following their predecessors out of the door.