Punch parts company with chief exec in shake-up

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The Independent Online

Punch Taverns revealed a management shake-up yesterday that will see its chief executive step down immediately, just six months after the pubs group listed on the stock market.

Steven Lambert, who was appointed chief executive less than a year ago, is to be replaced by Giles Thorley, the group's executive chairman. Mr Lambert, 50, will collect about £350,000 in compensation, the equivalent of 12 months of his basic salary plus bonuses. He also takes with him a paper profit of nearly £225,000 in respect of his options on 800,000 shares, to which he remains entitled.

Mr Thorley, who was poached from the Nomura-owned rival pub chain Unique to spearhead Punch's flotation, said: "We agreed now was a good time to change the roles. It wasn't something that had been planned long term." He added that the decision had been reached jointly and was amicable.

Mr Lambert, who joined Punch in 1999, gave no details of his plans, adding: "I now feel able to explore new aspects in the knowledge that there will be no interruption in the running and development of the business." Phil Cox, the deputy chairman who was previously Asda's finance director, will step up to the post of non-executive chairman.

Analysts were divided about the significance of the board changes. James Wheatcroft, at Investec, said: "It appears a little hasty after the recent flotation." Greg Feehely, at Old Mutual, said the shake-up "did not cause us any concern".

The management reshuffle came as Punch, which is Britain's second-biggest pubs group, reported better-than-expected maiden results. Pre-tax profits for the year to 17 August rose 9 per cent to £93m from £85m – beating analysts' forecasts of about £87m. Turnover increased by 6 per cent to £392m, while like-for-like sales were up 3 per cent. Margins rose by 1.3 per cent driven by increased income from gaming machines, which rose 42 per cent to £10m, and a change in the group's leasing arrangements.

Mr Thorley said the group was well placed to reach its expansion target of adding about 300 pubs a year.

Punch raised £152m from its flotation, most of which was used to slash debt. Its shares, which fell to a steep discount on listing but later recovered, fell 2p yesterday to 228p.