Prosser expected to head hotels group in Six Continents demerger

Sir Ian Prosser, the chairman of Six Continents, looks set to become chairman of the company's hotels operation if the widely-expected demerger of the group's pubs business is given the go-ahead.

The 59-year-old industry veteran, whose contract is up for renewal next July, is thought to have agreed to delay his retirement and stay on to oversee the breakup and head up the hotel business.

Richard North, the company's finance director, is expected to become chief executive of the hotels operation, which includes the Inter-Continental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn hotel chains.

While Six Continents has insisted that a final decision has yet to be taken on whether to split the business in two, it is thought demerger plans are at an advanced stage. The company admitted last week that it had been "actively considering" a demerger alongside plans to return cash to shareholders. The news pushed the shares up 7.5 per cent.

A formal plan to demerge the pubs business, which owns brands including All Bar One, O'Neills and Browns, could be unveiled as soon as 1 October when the group is due to release a trading update.

Tim Clarke, Six Continents' chief executive, is expected to run the pubs operation while Karim Naffah, the company's strategic director, is being lined up as finance director.

Analysts predict Six Continents could also announce plans to return between £500m and £750m to shareholders, in addition to the pubs demerger, alongside the 1 October trading update.

The company, which sold its Bass brewing operation two years ago, has so far failed to find a suitable hotel acquisition despite months of looking. It said in May it would consider returning up to £1bn to investors if it failed to find a hotel deal by the end of this year.