Outlook: Rentokil Initial

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The Independent Online
IT IS hard to know whether Doug Flynn is a good, bad or indifferent appointment as Rentokil Initial's new chief executive. Brian McGowan, the chairman, has all too obviously been struggling to fill the post - it is now six months since he sacked Mr Flynn's predecessor, James Wilde - but it would be unfair and wrong to regard Mr Flynn as a desperate, scraping the bottom of the barrel type of appointment.

He comes with a reasonably impressive track record, first at News Corp where he was eventually managing director of the group's UK newspapers, and then the media buying group Aegis. Yet though his early career was spent at ICI, it is a record won primarily in the media business. He would have been much more obviously suited to the CEO's shoes at the Australian newspaper group John Fairfax, a job he recently turned down. How he will fare as a rat-catcher is anyone's guess.

Mr Flynn's calculation must be that the worst of the bad news at Rentokil is over and that the turnaround from here on in will be relatively straightforward. Rick Haythornthwaite thought the same thing when he joined Invensys. Instead it has just been one refinancing after another and still the business is struggling. The history of companies built on the back of fast fire acquisition suggests strongly that there may be more pain to come at Rentokil before things start to get noticeably better.

Still, whatever doubts there may be about Mr Flynn, they are as nothing compared with his replacement at Aegis, Robert Lerwill. He's been a non- executive director of Aegis for some years now and, in a previous incarnation, he was finance director of WPP, so on the face of it he is more obviously well qualified for the job than Mr Flynn is for Rentokil. Yet as finance director of Cable & Wireless, his more recent track record has looked distinctly unimpressive.

At C&W he was associated with a string of value-destroying acquisitions that eventually resulted in liabilities so great that C&W had to put its US business into Chapter 11 to escape them. Every dog deserves a second chance, but some will see his appointment as tantamount to a vacuum in management at the top. If he's not careful, it may not be long before he's working for his old employer again, Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP.

jeremy.warner@independent.co.uk

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