CEO swept out in coup at British Energy

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The chief executive of British Energy, the nuclear electricity generator, was ousted yesterday in a boardroom coup masterminded by the company's chairman-designate Robin Jeffrey.

Peter Hollins left the company with immediate effect and is expected to receive a pay-off worth about £300,000. His departure followed a difficult period for British Energy, which last month reported a collapse in profits from £241m to just £10m for the year to 31 March.

Mr Jeffrey, who will take over as chairman next month, will also remain chief executive until the search for a replacement from outside the company is completed.

Mr Hollins joined British Energy in February 1998 after the sacking of the previous chief executive Bob Hawley. He led an ill-fated diversification strategy in which the company bought the Swalec electricity supply business in South Wales, only to sell it on again less than a year later.

Mr Hollins, who came to British Energy from the ICI plastics joint venture EVC, had been under pressure since British Energy shocked the markets a year ago by issuing a profits warning and halving the dividend. Still, the timing of his departure came as a surprise, as most analysts felt the company had turned the corner.

Mr Jeffrey returned to the UK earlier this year after heading an expansion programme in North America, which now accounts for a third of British Energy's generating capacity. He led the coup after deciding that the group needed management better equipped to concentrate on its core nuclear business in the UK and North America. Mr Hollins is not thought to have been aware of moves to oust him until he was confronted by Mr Jeffrey and British Energy's senior independent director Sir Robin Biggam, shortly before a board meeting in East Kilbride yesterday morning.

David Gilchrist, a senior executive with British Energy's Canadian business Bruce Power, will become managing director of the group's UK nuclear business, a role formerly carried out by Mr Hollins.