Kingfisher sheds two more

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The Independent Online
The boardroom clear-out at Kingfisher, the embattled Woolworths and B&Q retailer, continued yesterday with the announcement that two more of the main board directors are to leave amidst a dramatic pruning of the group's bloated head office structure.

The shake-up sees the departure of Nigel Whittaker, Kingfisher's corporate affairs director and one of the original members of the management buyout team that founded the company in 1982. Tim Breene, the strategy director who joined the board last year, will also be leaving. Their roles "are no longer appropriate", the company said.

Both are on controversial three-year rolling contracts and will be entitled to substantial compensation. Mr Whittaker draws a salary of £410,000, so he could be entitled to up to £1.2m. Mr Breene's salary is not disclosed in the latest annual report.

Their departures are part of a strategy review that will see the head office staff reduced from 100 to 60. Most of the positions will be redeployed within the operational business but there will be some redundancies. Costs at Kingfisher's head office, once a model of corporate thrift, have mushroomed to around £15m a year.

The clear-out means that four of the top board directors have left the troubled high street retailer since a profits warning in January. Last month Kingfisher announced that the chief executive, Alan Smith, and finance director, James Kerr-Muir, were to leave the group and that the former chairman, Sir Geoff Mulcahy, was to take the reins as chief executive.

Neither Mr Whittaker nor Mr Breene will depart immediately. Mr Whittaker will stay on "for a while" to hand over some of his responsibilities.

Sir Geoff said: "What we are doing is refocusing management more clearly and making those responsible for running the businesses more accountable. Unfortunately changes of this kind means casualties. We are sorry to be losing both Nigel and Tim. In particular I would like to thank Nigel for his contribution over many years."

Nigel Whittaker declined to comment yesterday but a spokesman said: "It's been a long-term partnership and I imagine it is quite an emotional time for them. It's not been easy for Geoff to make a decision like this."

Analysts regarded the departures as inevitable. One said: "They have paid the price for the previous problems. It was difficult to justify their position on the board." Another said the clear-out intensified the pressure on Sir Geoff to turn Kingfisher around. "The director changes were unavoidable stuff but it does not alter the critical problem of how they run the businesses in tough markets."

The shares dipped 3p to 426p.