A very British coup finally traps the Ratcatcher-in-chief

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The Independent Online

In every sense, it was a classic boardroom coup, and a very British one at that.

The fate of Rentokil's Ratcatcher-in-Chief was sealed last Friday when Brian McGowan, the deputy chairman and the senior independent director, called a board meeting for the following Monday.

Mr McGowan and his fellow non-executive directors had become increasingly concerned about the company's drift and its inability to stop the rot as long as Sir Clive Thompson remained at the helm.

Unusually, there had been no groundswell of unrest from institutional shareholders. "Not one of us had got a call from a single investor," Mr McGowan said. "This was decisive action by the non-executives."

The board meeting took place on Monday afternoon in the Park Lane offices of the property company Hammerson, whose chairman, Ron Spinney, is also a non-executive director of Rentokil.

Unbeknown to Sir Clive, however, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Rentokil's five non-executives had already met in secret that morning in the same offices to plot the coup. Apart from Mr McGowan and Mr Spinney, those in attendance were Ian Harley, the former chief executive of Abbey National, Peter Long, the chief executive of the tour operator First Choice, and Paul Mason, a former Asda executive who is now president of Levi Strauss's European operations.

When the full board meeting began, Sir Clive was asked to leave the room while his future was decided. A short while later, Mr McGowan emerged to tell him it was the board's unanimous view that he should resign. "It was a complete shock to him, but he was incredibly statesmanlike about it," Mr McGowan said. "Clive knew there was disquiet but I don't think he expected this to happen."

Mr McGowan, who is no stranger to the rough and tumble of corporate life, said that despatching the Rentokil chairman had made "the last two or three days the worst in my business life". But not as bad, perhaps, as they have been for Sir Clive Thompson.