British Gas-owned Centrica has begun the search for a new chief executive after £2 million-a-year boss Sam Laidlaw indicated that he wants to step down this year.
The company has hired executive search consultants, believed to be Spencer Stuart, to put together a shortlist of candidates to replace Laidlaw.
He has held the top job at Britain’s biggest energy provider for eight years, but is preparing to announce his departure in the coming months, the Evening Standard has learned. That could mean he leaves Centrica as the Competition Commission mounts its deepest-ever investigation into the Big Six power providers. The probe, which could lead to the dominant suppliers being broken up into separate retail and energy generation businesses, is due to start in June.
The group has already lost its finance director, Nick Luff, the head of British Gas, Phil Bentley, and chairman Sir Roger Carr in the past year, as Centrica’s annual profits slumped from £2.4 billion to £1.6 billion. Luff is departing for the same role at publisher Reed Elsevier this year, and his departure alongside Laidlaw’s could mire Centrica in chaos.
A Centrica source said there was “no timescale” on Laidlaw’s departure, but added: “Given we are focused on the succession of Nick [Luff], it makes sense to think of chief executive plans too. It’s looking like a competition inquiry is ahead; that could take three years. Is Sam going to be here in three years? No.”
Laidlaw, who lives in a Chelsea townhouse and was dubbed “Sammy Two Pools” after building a second swimming pool at his Cotswolds estate, can expect to depart with shares and a pension worth more than £12 million.
Insiders named Chris Weston, who ran Centrica’s US business before returning to the UK as boss of British Gas last year, as the favourite to replace Laidlaw. But Iain Conn, a BP executive, is also thought to be a contender for the role.
Centrica chairman Rick Haythornthwaite, who will lead the search, only took on that role in January, replacing Carr after nine years in the job.
Laidlaw has attracted anger over soaring energy bills. Average prices for British Gas’s dual-fuel customers have shot up from about £1000 a year in 2007 to £1400 this year, according to the comparison site uSwitch. Centrica declined to comment and Spencer Stuart was unavailable for comment.