Wilde ousted as chief executive of Rentokil

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of Rentokil followed its chairman out of the door yesterday, completing a clean sweep of the top management at the pest control to tropical plants group.

The chief executive of Rentokil followed its chairman out of the door yesterday, completing a clean sweep of the top management at the pest control to tropical plants group.

James Wilde, who had been chief executive for 18 months, has left with a £650,000 pay-off just 10 weeks after Sir Clive Thompson, the founder and chairman of Rentokil, fell victim to a boardroom coup.

Brian McGowan, who took over as non-executive chairman following Sir Clive's removal, has stepped into the role of executive chairman while a new chief executive is sought from outside Rentokil. The headhunting firm Spencer Stuart is conducting the search.

Mr McGowan said that Mr Wilde's departure followed soundings he had taken both within the company and externally. "I can't say that there was direct pressure applied. No one came up to me and said, 'Get rid of him', but there were concerns expressed. I came to the conclusion that what was needed was a fresh set of eyes, someone who could come in from outside and grab hold of the business," Mr McGowan said.

At the time of Sir Clive's departure in May, Mr McGowan, the architect of the coup, said he had "absolute confidence in Mr Wilde as chief executive."

But he said yesterday: "I believed what I said then, but 10 weeks spent going around talking to people gives you a different perspective."

Mr McGowan is mid-way through a strategic review of the business, the results of which will be announced alongside Rentokil's half-year results in a month's time.

The new executive chairman also sought to reassure investors about the long-term health of the company by stressing that he had found "no black holes, no funny business" during the course of his review. Although the Rentokil share price closed unchanged, analysts said that concerns about the company remained. "Management is clearly in disarray," Robert Morton of Investec said, adding that he assumed trading was even worse than the company had indicated in May.

Sir Clive had run Rentokil for 20 years before his unceremonious dumping, becoming known as Mr Twenty Per Cent because of his pledge to grow compound earnings at that rate each year. Mr Wilde had been with Rentokil for 11 years.

"I have talked to a lot of people, from the top of the company right down to managers of quite small pest control businesses, from the investment community and from the Press and certain themes kept coming back," Mr McGowan said. "James is a nice bloke but I just got the feeling that we needed someone with wider experience in a multinational business."

He said Rentokil hoped to fill the position in the next six months, "unless we get lucky and someone like Stuart Rose walks past my door".

From 'absolute confidence' to 'different perspective'

'We have drawn a line in the sand. I have faith in the management and absolute confidence in the chief executive'

Brian McGowan, 19 May 2004

'Ten weeks spent going around talking to people gives you a different perspective. I came to the conclusion that what was needed was a fresh set of eyes'

Brian McGowan, 27 July 2004

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