For two decades he turned pests into profits. So why was 'Mr 20 per cent' Rentokilled off?

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The Independent Online

For a man kicked out of the company he has built from virtually nothing over two decades, Sir Clive Thompson is fairly chipper. "As far as I'm concerned I've had a fantastic involvement in Rentokil," he told The Independent on Sunday from his home in Sevenoaks, Kent. "I don't want to dwell on the last few days."

A week ago Sir Clive was chairman of Rentokil Initial. A year ago he was chief executive, a position he had held for 20 years. In that time he earned the nickname "Mr 20 per cent" from delivering 20 per cent growth in earnings each year.

Except the last three. Plagued by competition, falling margins and a loss of direction, Rentokil gained a habit of disappointing the City. Last year Sir Clive was replaced as chief executive by the head of the security division, James Wilde.

On the face of it, Sir Clive's elevation to chairman appeared to be going well. Both Sir Clive and Mr Wilde said their relationship was good. But behind the smiles, tensions were making themselves felt.

Mr Wilde found that too many colleagues still viewed Sir Clive as the boss, and any decision was met by: "What would Sir Clive think?" Sir Clive was uncomfortable with Mr Wilde's increased spending on marketing and wanted a radical solution - selling the parcels delivery and some of the facilities management businesses. The money released could be used to build the successful hygiene and security operations.

Only Sir Clive's plans never got to the board. He says Mr Wilde blocked them. Having raised concerns about the 2004 budget back in January, Sir Clive realised his time at Rentokil was limited. "I had two routes," he says. "One was to persuade the chief executive round and, if I failed, then I had to resign."

Sir Clive said he thought he might quit after Rentokil's AGM this Thursday. Only it didn't get that far. The non-executive directors met on Monday morning, ahead of a board meeting that afternoon, and agreed that he would be kicked out.

Brian McGowan, the former chairman of the Williams conglomerate who now replaces Sir Clive, said the ousting was decided by the five non-executives alone, without prompting from executive directors or shareholders. He said it was an issue of changing the culture and tactics of the company, and denied there was any disagreement about strategy.

This was echoed by Mr Wilde. "There was no major disagreement. Our thought processes were in line."

Ironically, Rentokil is now going to conduct a strategic review and may implement some of the ideas Sir Clive put forward. Mr Wilde admitted that selling the parcels business was "not an original thought. Some analysts have suggested it and some of our shareholders have suggested it. We've never discussed it as a board, but we may discuss it now."

Sir Clive says his ousting was "draconian" but he doesn't want to allow any bitterness to cloud his memories of the company. He plans to cut all ties with Rentokil and move on.