Group 4 Securicor chief steps down early

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Group 4 Securicor, the security guards-to-private prisons operator, has brought forward its management succession plan, appointing Nick Buckles to the chief executive's post almost a year earlier than expected.

The move came as Group 4 Securicor disclosed it will make a £34.5m loss on the forced disposal of its Dutch business and said it is re-tendering on two big guarding contracts in the United States accounting for $500m of revenues or a quarter of its US income.

Mr Buckles, formerly chief executive of Securicor until its merger last July with its Danish rival Group 4 Falck, had not been expected to take over from Lars Johansen, the chief executive of the combined company, until next year. But the company announced yesterday that he will move into the job after the annual meeting in June. As a result of this, and the departure later this year of the company's joint deputy chairman and senior independent director Lord Sharman, it has been decided to delay the retirement of the chairman, Jorgen Philip-Sorensen, for nine months until June, 2006. He will be succeeded by the company's other joint deputy chairman, Alf Duch-Pedersen, the chief executive of the Danish food ingredients manufacturer Danisco.

Mr Buckles maintained there had never been a set date for him to take over as chief executive but that with the integration of the two companies proceeding ahead of schedule, the board had decided it was the right time for Mr Johansen to step down.

He also shrugged off the US Department of Energy's decision to review two big contracts which the company's American subsidiary Wackenhut has to guard military and civilian nuclear sites. A big American trade union, the SEIU, has highlighted the move as part of its campaign to put pressure on Wackenhut to sign up to an industry-wide agreement governing pay and conditions and the training and vetting of security staff. But Mr Buckles said the contracts were automatically put out to tender every five years, adding that Wackenhut had a customer retention rate of more than 90 per cent and better-than-average pay and conditions.

The sale of the Dutch business, Falck Netherlands, was one of three disposals forced on the company by EU competition authorities in return for approving the merger. The company has already sold Securicor Luxembourg and its cash services business in Scotland, the other two disposals demanded by Brussels, netting a £12m profit.