British multinational home improvement retailer Kingfisher is to announce Véronique Laury as its new chief executive. The French businesswomen, formerly head of the company’s French DIY business, will replace long-standing CEO Sir Ian Cheshire in January. Cheshire has been in charge for seven years, but Laury’s eleven years at Kingfisher will no doubt reassure shareholders and investors of her ability to perform the role competently.
Shares in the company have under-performed relative to the rest of the FTSE 100 index by almost 30 per cent in the last year, but the news of Laury’s appointment had a positive effect on share price, making Kingfisher the biggest gainers yesterday, rising 4 per cent to 319.6p.
Cheshire has insisted his departure is unrelated to the group’s falling first-half profits, which fell 6.5 per cent to £375 million. The outgoing chief executive said that he wanted a strong figure in place to oversee the changes in technology infrastructure and expansion of the business over the next five years, a time commitment he was not willing to make himself. “From the point of view of the company and yourself, you probably have a sell-by date,” he said. “You can always think of another two to three years to do. This feels like the right time to hand over to someone who can really take the next five-year cycle forward.”
Laury is well qualified for the role, described by Cheshire as a “proper grown-up home improvement retailer… A real class act”. Not only does Laury count painting and gardening among her favourite DIY pastimes (she joked that that her nickname should be “Madame Bricolage”, a play on the Mr Bricolage business that Kingfisher bought earlier this year), but she has 26 years of experience working in the home improvement market in France and the UK. In 2003, she joined Castorama, Kingfisher’s French business, before becoming commercial director of B&Q in 2010 and moved to the UK.
She joined Kingfisher’s executive board earlier this year, and is now the fifth female CEO of a FTSE 100 company. A surprise appointment according to analysts (who described her as a “relatively unknown French woman”), Laury insists she will do the job exactly as a man would. Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: “Today’s announcements bring some welcome relief for investors” but that the “new chief executive faces no easy task”.
Kingfisher is the largest home improvement retailer in Europe and the third largest in the world, with over 1,030 stores in eight countries across Asia and Europe. Its brands include B&Q, Castorama, Brico Dépôt and Screwfix. The company was founded in 1982 by the buyout of Woolworths by Paternoster Stores, which later changed its name to Woolworth Holdings plc.