Finance chief fills the void at British Land

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The Independent Online

British Land, the property giant, finally announced the appointment of a chief executive yesterday: Stephen Hester, currently the chief operating officer of Abbey National.

British Land, the property giant, finally announced the appointment of a chief executive yesterday: Stephen Hester, currently the chief operating officer of Abbey National.

The news came two years after John Ritblat, the chairman and chief executive of the company, gave a commitment to split the top two jobs, following pressure from shareholders.

In May this year, British Land announced that its preferred candidate for the job, Philip Yea, had taken a position elsewhere and the recruitment process was to begin again.

Analysts welcomed the appointment of Mr Hester, 43, pointing out that his career record implied he was likely to be "his own man". British Land has been criticised in the City for being dominated by one man, Mr Ritblat, 68, who has run it for more than 30 years. He will remain chairman.

Mr Hester, who is likely to receive a basic salary of about £600,000, said: "People in banking will tell you that if someone wanted to hire a patsy, they wouldn't hire me."

He said that he had known Mr Ritblat since the late 1980s, when Mr Hester was an investment banker. He said that his respect for, and liking of, Mr Ritblat was a "big draw" to the job. Banking sources said that Mr Hester was "something of a bruiser" who was unlikely to be pushed around. He is credited with overseeing restructuring at Abbey National, along with its chief executive, Luqman Arnold, who joined the bank shortly after Mr Hester in 2002. Mr Hester, who started at Abbey National as finance director, was thought to have gone for the chief executive job at the company but lost out to Mr Arnold.

Before joining Abbey National, Mr Hester was at Credit Suisse for 20 years, rising to be chief financial officer and then global head of its fixed income division. He said he hoped to start at British Land in the autumn.

British Land declined to spell out whether the recruitment of Mr Hester would mean that Mr Ritblat would take a non-executive or part-time role.

John Weston Smith, British Land's chief operating officer, said that Mr Ritblat was "very willing to operate on a collegiate basis", adding: "He lets you get on with it."

Mr Hester said he was not looking specifically to move into the property sector but he was contacted by British Land's headhunters in May and was attracted to the idea. Then, a few days later, he found himself, on holiday, staying at the same hotel in Venice as Mr Ritblat by chance. They were able to "have a few chats" about the position.

Mr Hester said his decision to join British Land was "completely unconnected" to the takeover of Abbey National. He said there were no talks going on at the bank when he decided to go for the new job.

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