Laury to become new CEO of B&Q’s UK owner

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Kingfisher, Europe’s number one home improvements retailer, revealed the head of its French arm would replace Ian Cheshire as chief executive to steer the group through a period of major change.

Veronique Laury will become the fifth female chief executive of Britain’s top 100 companies. She will take the helm before the end of January 2015, Kingfisher said yesterday.

Laury, 49, will oversee the expansion of Screwfix and Brico Dépôt into new markets, the restructuring of B&Q and the integration of newly acquired Mr Bricolage.

She will also lead a five-year IT systems roll-out and complete the plan to develop common brands across the Anglo French group.

“It became clear that there needed to be a five-year commitment for the next phase and that, realistically from my point of view, 12 years (as CEO) was not going to be part of my plan,” Cheshire, chief executive since 2008, told reporters.

Laury has worked in the home improvement sector for 26 years. She has worked in France, Kingfisher’s biggest market, and in Britain. In her 11 years at Kingfisher she has held several roles at both Castorama, B&Q and at group level. She previously worked for French rivals Forestyl and Leroy Merlin.

The succession plan was announced as Kingfisher, number three in the world behind US groups Lowe’s and Home Depot, posted flat first-half profit as a boost from good weather in the first quarter was followed by a much tougher second quarter.

Shares in the firm, down a quarter over the last year, rose up to 4.6 per cent.

They were up 12.4 pence at 319.8 pence, valuing the business at £7.6bn.

Tony Shiret, analyst at Espirito Santo Investment Bank, said Cheshire’s decision to leave was understandable “in the context of the re-boot in prospect over the next few years.”

But he said Laury’s elevation was a surprise and could have implications for Kevin O’Byrne, the managing director of B&Q, who was seen by some as the likely next chief executive.

Cheshire, 55, said he had not come under any pressure from the board to step down. “There’s no particular connection to other events,” he said, adding Laury was “superbly qualified for the job.”

Cheshire hoped his next business job would be linked with his interest in sustainability.

During his tenure Kingfisher’s sales have grown 23 percent, adjusted pretax profit has doubled and the firm’s market capitalisation has increased by 3.8 billion pounds or 112 percent.

Cheshire also reduced net debt by £1.6bn, allowing the firm to return capital to shareholders for the first time.

Kingfisher made an underlying pretax profit of £364m in the 26 weeks to August 2, ahead of analysts’ average forecast of £360m, according to a company poll.

The firm experienced a sharp slowdown in its second quarter, particularly in France and Poland.

First half sales rose 0.9 per cent to £5.77bn and were up 1.8 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

An interim dividend of 3.15 pence, up one per cent, is being paid.

“Whilst our French business saw an improvement in August we remain cautious about the economic backdrop,” said Cheshire.

The chief executive repeated his opposition to Scottish independence, saying a Yes vote in the September 18 referendum would lead to higher prices for consumers and would make the country less attractive for investors.

Laury has worked in the home improvement sector for 26 years in France and the UK.

She joined Kingfisher in 2003 and in her 11 years with the business she has held several key roles including UK group commercial director and B&Q commercial director.