David Lloyd takes back seat at firm he founded

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David Lloyd is relinquishing his executive responsibilities at David Lloyd Leisure, the fitness and tennis club business bought by Whitbread almost a year ago for pounds 200m.

Whitbread said yesterday that his move to becoming a non-executive director had been reached by mutal consent.

He will devote more time to Britain's Davis Cup team and is considering starting a similar business in Australia.

The former British tennis star, who is abroad on business and unavailable for comment, has informed staff at David Lloyd Leisure that he will step down from being executive to non-executive chairman from 1 January next year.

Mr Lloyd has already signed a new contract to replace the three-year rolling contract he agreed with Whitbread when it bought David Lloyd Leisure. Under the terms of the old contract, he stood to reap pounds 740,000 over the three years to 1998 if it had run its full course.

His decision comes a month after reports that a rift had opened between him and senior management installed by Whitbread at David Lloyd Leisure. The reports prompted Sir Michael Angus, chairman of Whitbread, into making a statement at the brewing and food retailing company's annual meeting. "It is inevitable that when an entrepreneur such as David Lloyd joins the board of a major public company there is likely to be a period of adjustment," Sir Michael told shareholders.

Questioned yesterday about Mr Lloyd's decision to dilute his commitment to the David Lloyd business, a Whitbread spokesman said: "Over the next few months he will hand over his executive responsibilities to other members of the board.

"David Lloyd Leisure's vigorous expansion plans will continue with the complete personal support of David Lloyd." Executive control of the business will go to Steve Philpott, managing director. The spokesman declined to comment on Mr Lloyd's new contract terms.

However he did say that Whitbread would back Mr Lloyd's ambitions to establish a business in Australia.

Whitbread, which owns the world-wide rights to the David Lloyd Leisure trading name, is holding talks about taking a minority stake in the new business venture he is proposing to undertake in Australia.