British Land struggles to find chief executive

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The Independent Online

British Land, the UK's second largest quoted property group, appeared to be no closer to appointing a new chief executive as it faced shareholders at its AGM yesterday.

British Land, the UK's second largest quoted property group, appeared to be no closer to appointing a new chief executive as it faced shareholders at its AGM yesterday.

After agreeing two years ago to split the roles of chairman and chief executive, which John Ritblat has held since founding the company more than 30 years ago, the property giant has struggled to find a successor, in spite of its promise to have filled the role before this year's shareholders' meeting.

In a curt statement at the meeting, Mr Ritblat simply said: "The search is progressing well and the board will make an announcement as soon as the process is complete." Mr Ritblat, 69, has long been reluctant to relinquish any of his power at British Land, and has said that once a successor has been found as chief executive, he will not stay around long in his post as chairman.

The appointment of a replacement was dealt a blow earlier this year after Phillip Yea, a former finance director at Diageo, turned down the job in favour of a position at 3i, the private equity group.

Although remaining tight-lipped over his successor, Mr Ritblat remained as bullish as ever over prospects for the UK commercial property market. Listing a string of recent City lease deals, he said the decline in the UK office sector was now well and truly over.

He added that more investors were turning to the property market as other asset classes continued to deliver unimpressive returns. "There is a renewed appreciation of property's fundamental attractions in the wider investment spectrum, given that so much uncertainty prevails outside the sector," he said. "This long overdue revival of sentiment is not the product of a boom, for City of London office rental levels are now stabilised, and retail rents are showing steady but not abnormal increases."

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