WS Atkins names Skanska boss as new CEO

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The Independent Online

WS Atkins, the engineering consultancy and support services group, ended its nine-month search for a new chief executive yesterday by appointing Keith Clarke.

The company, one of the shareholders in the Metronet Tube consortium, has been without a chief executive since October last year after Robin Southwell was ousted following a disastrous profits warning.

Mr Clarke, currently executive vice-president of the Swedish-owned construction company Skanska, will join Atkins in October on a salary of £340,000. Mr Southwell received a pay-off worth a similar amount.

His appointment came as Atkins cheered the market with better-than-expected annual profits and a forecast of "significant recovery" in performance over the next 12 months. The shares, which have outperformed the support services sector by 150 per cent since the start of the year, rose another 12 per cent to close at 287.5p. Following last autumn's profit warning they crashed to a low of 52p.

Atkins' share price has been on a steady climb since it revealed in February that it had received a tentative bid approach worth 160p a share from the private-equity group CVC Capital Partners. Atkins called off takeover talks a few weeks later and has not had any serious approaches since, said its chairman, Michael Jeffries.

A cost-cutting programme implemented last year after the profits warning helped Atkins to achieve an adjusted profit before tax of £19m in the year to the end of March - half the previous year's £38m but £4m more than the £15m that Atkins had forecast in its pre-close trading statement.

Atkins reported a bottom-line loss of £62m after incurring £64m of exceptional charges.