Jeremy Warner: Wheeler gets the bullet at Brixton

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The Independent Online

Outlook: Personally, I rather liked Tim Wheeler, the now ex-chief executive of Brixton Estates, but he was not well liked in the City. Among property analysts, he was thought smug and uncommunicative, and though the strategy of concentrating on industrial space, much of it within the M25, seemed fair enough, few believed Mr Wheeler's insistence that Brixton was better placed than other property companies to weather the storm.

His results presentation in November last year was fronted by a picture of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, accompanied by a line from the Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower": "There must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief". No one found it funny, still less did Mr Wheeler seem to offer any credible plan of escape.

In any case, Brixton is being just as badly swamped by the collapse in the commercial property market as everyone else. Falling rents, insolvent tenants and vacant properties have become the order of the day. Like other property companies, Brixton has also found itself caught by its banking covenants, which are partially based on loan-to-value criteria. As property values plummet to unanticipated depths, Brixton and others have come perilously close to breach. The options are limited and unappetising – either raise more equity or sell properties.

The other week, when Brixton was forced to admit it was considering a rights issue, Mr Wheeler was off on holiday. It was the last straw for his investors and the board. After 24 years with the company, he was yesterday unceremoniously sacked. There may indeed be some way out of here for Brixton Estates, but whatever it is, Mr Wheeler and his directors plainly couldn't agree. With apologies to Bob Dylan, there was too much confusion, so, for relief, the board chose to fire him.

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