Whitbread poaches easyJet boss as new chief executive

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The Independent Online

The leisure group Whitbread has hired the chief executive of easyJet, the budget airline, to succeed Alan Parker, who will retire on his 64th birthday on 25 November.

Whitbread, which operates Costa Coffee and the budget hotel chain Premier Inn, said that Andy Harrison, who has been at easyJet since 2005, will join as chief executive designate on 1 September. His remuneration package was not disclosed, but it is thought that he will receive a basic salary of around £700,000.

Before joining the budget airline, Mr Harrison, 52, was chief executive of RAC, the motoring and vehicle services company that is now part of the insurance giant Aviva.

Whitbread's announcement yesterday took analysts by surprise and comes ahead of its issuing a pre-close trading update today. Simon French, an analyst at Panmure Gordon, said the group's full-year pre-tax profits could surpass market expectations of between £230m and £241m.

While Mr Parker had been expected to retire this year, Mr Harrison's name had not featured on most people's list of replacements. Carl Leaver, a former Whitbread executive, and Chris Rogers, the company's finance director, were seen as the leading contenders.

Anthony Habgood, the chairman of Whitbread, which also runs the Beefeater, Brewers Fayre and Taybarns pub restaurants, said it had been through a "thorough" international search and had interviewed a "number of high quality" candidates before opting for Mr Harrison. "Andy has 14 years' proven experience as a successful leader of two significant consumer-facing public companies," he said. "Most recently at easyJet, he has successfully led and profitably internationalised a leading value-for-money brand in the highly competitive airline market."

It is thought that Mr Harrison plans to buy shares in Whitbread and is discussing with the company a scheme where they would match his purchase.

Mr Harrison said: "Whitbread has a great history and strong culture with an exciting future ahead." Under his stewardship, easyJet grew its fleet from 100 aircraft in 2005 to 187 today.

Mr Parker has served as chief executive of Whitbread since June 2004, having previously been managing director of the Whitbread Hotel Company for 12 years. Mr Habgood said: "Alan has made an invaluable contribution to the growth and development of Whitbread during his six years."

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