British Gas is in line to have a female boss for the first time in its history after its managing director, Chris Weston, surprised the City by announcing his departure after just a year in the job.
The departure of Mr Weston – heir apparent of Centrica after its chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, indicated his desire to leave – means that Britain’s biggest energy provider is searching to replace all of its top three executives.
The finance director, Nick Luff, announced in January that he was quitting to take up the same role at the publisher Reed Elsevier.
Mr Weston, 50, is to take the helm at the generators giant Aggreko.
Insiders said the former McKinsey partner Nina Bhatia, currently British Gas’s commercial director, and Susan Hooper, who runs British Gas Services, are the front-runners to take his job running British Gas.
Ms Bhatia spent 23 years at McKinsey before joining British Gas four years ago. Ms Hooper, a former non-executive board member at Whitbread, ran the travel business Acromas before being poached by the energy giant in January.
Mr Weston, who faced personal attacks on his pay packages and was given a £401,000 cash bonus, is believed to have been interviewed for Mr Laidlaw’s job, but contacted headhunters after failing to be given the nod.
Meanwhile, the long-term BP executive Iain Conn is in advanced talks about being appointed at the helm of Centrica, but his £16m of performance-related share awards at BP could prove problematic.
Some analysts have warned that the swift departure of Mr Weston, who like Mr Luff is moving to a far lower-profile company, suggests that recent political and media attacks on energy executives are triggering an exodus of boardroom talent.
The departures come as Britain’s biggest energy provider faces the threat of being broken up by an imminent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation, having issued two profits warnings in less than six months.
Its chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, was lauded for hiring Sir David Higgins to run Network Rail when he ran the board of the state-back trains group, but now he has three top jobs to fill at the same time.
Mr Laidlaw said he is “sorry to see [Mr Weston] leave, but recognises that Aggreko offers a great opportunity for him.”
The City, however, disagreed, sending shares in Centrica up 5.5p to 336.3p on news of Mr Weston’s departure – which will take place during the next 12 months – while Aggreko’s shares sank 78p to 1,671p.
Centrica has made no comment about a succession plan for Mr Weston, while Aggreko – whose long-serving chief, Rupert Soames, quit to run Serco – said Mr Weston is unlikely to take up the new post until 2015.
Meanwile, Aggreko also said Carole Cran, interim chief financial officer, will take on her role permanently.