Sir John Banham to head Kingfisher

The long search for a new chairman at Kingfisher, the troubled Woolworths and Comet retail group, will end today when the company names Sir John Banham, the former director-general of the CBI, as its choice for the top job.

Sir John, who is 55, will join the Kingfisher board as a non- executive director today and take over from Sir Nigel Mobbs as chairman early next year. Sir Nigel, who has been a Kingfisher director for 13 years, will then step down from the board.

Meanwhile, speculation was growing over the weekend that George Simpson, chief executive of Lucas Industries, has emerged as the leading candidate to take over at the helm of the manufacturing conglomerate GEC when Lord Weinstock steps down next year.

Other candidates, both internal and external, are under consideration but Mr Simpson is believed to be the front-runner. The company's handling of the succession question is expected to be a subject of debate at a GEC board meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

The appointment of Sir John should win Kingfisher much-needed support in the City, where analysts and institutional investors have criticised the company for taking too long over the search. Kingfisher has been without a permanent chairman since January, when four directors left in a boardroom shake-up that followed a profits warning.

The company has been under pressure to appoint a heavyweight chairman to balance a board dominated by chief executive Sir Geoff Mulcahy. Sir John will spend at least two days a week at Kingfisher though details of his contract and salary have not yet been disclosed.

Sir Nigel said: "I am pleased we have been able to attract Sir John. In him and Sir Geoff we have a top team that will provide the leadership to reinvigorate the Kingfisher busi- inesses."

Sir John said: "I am delighted to be joining Kingfisher and to be working with Geoff. I am impressed by the way, despite difficulties in many relevant sectors of the retail market, the Kingfisher businesses are working to restore the pattern of growth the company achieved over many years."

Although Sir John has no direct retail experience and has never sat on the board of a retail group before, the breadth of his experience should help to bolster the company's credibility in the City.

Sir John was director-general of the CBI between 1987 and 1992. He is also chairman of Tarmac, the housebuilding and construction group, chairman of West Country Television and a non-executive director of National Westminster Bank and National Power.

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