End of a family era as the final Thornton quits board

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The Independent Online

The last remaining family member of the Thorntons chocolate dynasty is quitting the board of the confectionery retailer, the company announced yesterday.

John Thornton, the grandson of the group's founder, will attend his last board meeting on 1 September, ending an era that has lasted for more than four decades.

Commenting on his reasons for retiring as a non-executive director, he said: "Things change. Things have to move on. From the point of view of the company and myself, I've been there long enough."

His decision comes just weeks after John von Spreckelsen, the former chairman of Somerfield, joined the company as executive chairman. Mr Thornton's fellow non-executive director, John Jackson, is also retiring.

Mr Thornton's final months at the family firm have been eventful, with Chris Burnett, the man he handed the chairmanship to in April 2005, mounting an abortive attempt to buy the company. Profits and sales at Thorntons have been under pressure, with a series of profits warnings culminating in a dire Christmas for the group.

Despite the lack of Thorntons on the chocolatier's board, the founding family remain its biggest collective shareholder, speaking for about 22 per cent of the stock. Mr Thornton has a 6 per cent stake.

To inject new blood into the struggling retailer, Paul Wilkinson has joined its board as a non-executive director. Mr Wilkinson, the former executive chairman of RHM, the owner of Hovis bread, brings strong knowledge of consumer brands as he has held senior management roles at Unilever and Grand Metropolitan, which has since become the drinks giant Diageo.

Mr Thornton's grandfather, Joseph, set up Thorntons in 1911 with his son Norman, 14. It floated on the stock exchange in 1988.