FirstGroup appoints Aviva boss John McFarlane new chairman


FirstGroup has named City stalwart John McFarlane as its new chairman.

McFarlane is currently chairman of insurance group Aviva — a role he will continue to hold — having built his reputation during a decade running banking giant ANZ. He has also held senior roles at Standard Chartered, Citigroup and Royal Bank of Scotland.  

He will replace Martin Gilbert, who announced he was stepping down from his role in May when the struggling transport group was forced to tap investors for  £615 million to cut its debts. Gilbert’s extensive outside commitments — as founder and chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management and a board member at the broadcaster BSkyB — had concerned some investors ahead of his departure.

McFarlane, who is facing a similar challenge at Aviva, said: “I am pleased to be joining FirstGroup at an important stage of its evolution.

“The group has short-term challenges which we will naturally need to overcome, but I am convinced it has a significant opportunity to benefit from its market-leading positions and to deliver sustainable long-term value for shareholders. I look forward to playing a pivotal role in its future.”

FirstGroup, which operates rail franchises including First Capital Connect and First Great Western, saw its pre-tax losses narrow from £20.6 million to  £8 million during the six months ending September 30.

John Sievwright, senior independent director at FirstGroup, said: “I would like to pay tribute to Martin Gilbert, who has been involved with the group since its formation [in 1995] and has been instrumental in establishing its position as the leading transport operator in the UK and North America.”