City surprise as A&L drops role of chief executive

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The Independent Online

Alliance & Leicester, the high street bank, yesterday raised eyebrows in the City when it announced a new management structure which does away with the post of chief executive that has lain vacant since Peter White left after a board bust-up last October.

Instead, the bank has opted to appoint a second deputy chairman alongside Sir Michael Thompson, the present deputy chairman, and a new group managing director.

This is despite a worldwide search lasting more than six months for a new chief executive carried out by top City headhunters Spencer Stuart.

The moves will add credence to theories peddled by friends of the ousted former chief executive that John Windeler, the executive chairman who was responsible for Mr White's departure that he intended all along to take advantage of the situation to bolster his own position.

Analysts said the decision not to appoint a chief executive, which runs counter to the Corporate Governance codes, suggests the bank has abandoned any idea of remaining independent in the longer term. Rob Thomas of UBS Warburg, said: "It seems odd not to appoint a chief executive if you intend to continue as a separate entity."

However, both theories were dismissed by Mr Windeler, who emphasised that the new board has been chosen to take the bank forward on its own.

"We are not trying to sell the bank at the moment," he said.

The new deputy chairman is Peter Barton, currently a non-executive director. Mr Barton, like Mr Windeler, has an investment banking background.

The new group managing director, Peter McNamara, 49, joins next month from Lloyds TSB, the high-street clearing bank, where he has been for 26 years. He is currently Lloyds TSB's head of personal banking.

Two new non-executives are also joining the bank's board. These are Jonathan Watts, 45, managing director of Colt Telecommunications and David Brougham, 59, formerly of Standard Chartered, the UK quoted emerging markets bank.

Analysts believe that A&L, which has seen its share price fall by 25 per cent this year and its share of the UK mortgage market decline from 4.6 per cent to 3.1 per cent, is an attractive acquisition. Alex Potter, of Commerzbank Global Equities, said: "I have it as a buy recommendation as it would be a good bet for a foreign operation which wants to buy a strong consumer-backed brand name and a banking licence in the UK."

Shares in Alliance & Leicester were unmoved at 600.5p on yesterday's announcement

Analysts reacted positively to the appointment of Mr McNamara, although some questioned whether he will be able to form a successful working relationship with a chairman who clearly relishes a hands-on role.

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