Solomons to lead IHG after Cosslett decides to check out

Andrew Cosslett surprised the market with his decision to step down from the helm of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) yesterday, with the chain announcing finance director Richard Solomons as his replacement.

Mr Cosslett, who arrived at the world's largest hotel group after a career at consumer goods giant Unilever and confectioner Cadbury Schweppes, will depart at the end of June after over six years as chief executive.

"I've been going at pretty much full throttle for well over 30 years now in business, and this will be an opportunity for me to just pause for a while and take stock of the different options I have ahead before making any other commitments," he said.

His successor is an IHG veteran who took a seat on the board in 2003. Alongside Mr Cosslett, Mr Solomons has been instrumental in shaping the company's strategy in recent years, including the overhaul of the group's Holiday Inn chain and the expansion of IHG's presence in emerging markets.

Under–scoring this continuity, Mr Solomons said the management changes would mark a "new chapter" for the group, not a "new era".

"Andy has led us brilliantly over the past couple of years. I absolutely believe in where we're taking the company," he said, adding that the board "absolutely buys into the strategy".

IHG's chairman David Webster also paid tribute to Mr Cosslett, saying the board was "sorry to see him go." "Richard and Andy have worked very closely over the past six years and, in making this appointment, the board is ensuring continuity in management and in our strategy to drive growth," he said.

IHG shares were down more than 2 per cent following the news of Mr Cosslett's decision.

"The market will be disappointed at Cosslett's departure, but he has a good sense of timing (and is probably sick of living in an aeroplane or hotel room)," Evolution Securities' analyst Nigel Parson said, highlighting the fact that Mr Cosslett has successfully steered the group through the recent global recession.

"Solomons is very capable and will ensure no change in strategy," he added.

Asked about the group's exposure to the earthquake in Japan, Mr Solomons said: "Luckily, we have not lost any employees or guests in the tragedy."

IHG has 33 hotels across the island nation, with a Holiday Inn located at Sendai, the worst hit area.