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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

City predicts parts of Stobart Group will be sold

City analysts are predicting that Stobart Group will sell off a number of businesses following a boardroom shake-up.

The logistics giant announced yesterday that its non-executive chairman had stepped down from the job with immediate effect.

Rodney Baker-Bates made way for Avril Palmer-Baunack, who had been appointed to the new role of executive chairman with a remit to sell off underperforming parts of the company.

Shareholders, including one of the UK’s biggest fund managers, are said to have forced the change after 12 months in which Stobart shares have lost a quarter of their value.

As well as its core transport and distribution business, Stobart owns Southend and Carlisle airports, an engineering services division, a property portfolio and a unit that provides biomass used in energy generation. It has also diversified into legal services.

The Financial Times today describes the changes as a "shareholder coup" and reports that the removal of Mr Baker-Bates, who has held the position since 2007, was supported by some of Stobart’s largest shareholders including Invesco Perpetual, which holds a 36 per cent stake in the company.

“There has been a need for a change in leadership on the board and Avril fits that role perfectly,” said Neil Woodford, the head of UK equities at Invesco and one of the most influential fund managers in the City, managing more than £28bn of assets

David Beever, a Stobart non-executive director and chairman of Premier Foods, on Monday also stepped down from the haulier’s board with immediate effect, cutting the number of independent directors from six to five.

It is also reported that concerns are being raised in the city that Stobart Group's creation of an executive chairman's post are not in line with corporate governance guidelines.

The corporate governance code reads: "There should be a clear division of responsibilities at the head of the company between the running of the board and the executive responsibility for the running of the company's business. No one individual should have unfettered powers of decision."

"The code is clear," said Paul Hewitt of shareholder advisory agency Manifest. "The chair shouldn't have executive responsibility."

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