Reduced contract for new Whitbread chief

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The Leisure group Whitbread, the owner of the Marriott hotel chain and Beefeater restaurants, said yesterday it expected its new chief executive, Alan Parker, to be in the role for at least five years and on a lower salary - estimated at about £400,000 - than its current boss David Thomas.

Mr Parker, the current head of the company's hotel business, will also be on a one-year contract - one year less than Mr Thomas - and will be encouraged to buy more shares in the business as part of a general overhaul of the company's remuneration policy.

"We are in the process of changing the entire remuneration package," the chairman, Sir John Banham, said yesterday. "The way it will work is our executive team will earn less in the way of incentive payments for less-than-spectacular performance and more for outperformance."

One element of the proposed package, which is subject to shareholder approval, is likely to see Mr Parker lift his shareholding in the business from his current 17,000 shares.

"An element will be to require senior managers to retain equity in the business," Sir John said. "We'd like to be in a situation where people held [via a mix of their own investment and incentive payments] shares equivalent to roughly one year's salary."

Whitbread, which has been looking for a successor to Mr Thomas since the middle of the year, yesterday confirmed it had chosen Mr Parker. He earned a basic salary of £273,000 last year compared with the £535,000 that Mr Thomas was paid.

Mr Parker was selected from a final short-list of four that is also said to have included Bill Shannon, the head of Whitbread Restaurants, and Stewart Miller, the head of David Lloyd health clubs.

"Alan was the unanimous choice," Sir John said. Nevertheless, the appointment surprised some City analysts - mainly because Mr Parker, at 57, is only three years away from the company's retirement age himself. Sir John said yesterday, however, that it had been agreed that Mr Parker would take the job for a minimum of five years. "We and he expect five years," he said.

Mr Parker, who joined Whitbread as managing director of the Whitbread Hotel Company in 1992, will initially become chief executive designate before taking on the role officially after Mr Thomas retires following the annual meeting next June.