Compass Group, the FTSE-100 caterer, is to kick off the search for a new chair as one of Britain’s most prominent businessmen prepares to step down from the job.
Sky News has learnt that Compass will announce on Monday that Paul Walsh, who has chaired the company since 2014, is to step down within the next 12 months.
City insiders said on Sunday that the company was expected to consider internal and external candidates to replace Mr Walsh.
Compass has a market value of more than £30bn, making it one of the UK’s biggest listed businesses.
It provides catering and hospitality services at events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Cheltenham racing festival.
Employing roughly 600,000 people around the world, Compass has established itself as the world’s largest catering company.
It has a global market share of approximately 10%.
The news that it is beginning a hunt for Mr Walsh’s successor will surprise the City, because he was widely expected to step down in 2023, when he would have served as chairman for nine years.
The reasons for Mr Walsh’s decision to step down after a successful stint at the helm are unclear, although he is understood to be keen to devote more time to his involvement with privately held companies.
A growing band of FTSE-100 chairs have privately expressed their frustration at the amount of time they have to devote to corporate governance-related matters, rather than helping their executive teams formulate and deliver growth plans.
Many senior businesspeople are also angry at being caught in a backlash fuelled by proxy voting agencies against so-called “overboarding”, which has encouraged shareholders to oppose the re-election of directors who hold multiple directorships.
In 2017, Mr Walsh opted not to stand for re-election to the board of HSBC Holdings after investors were urged to vote against him owing to his chairmanships elsewhere.
Nevertheless, he is regarded as one of Britain’s most accomplished businessmen, having led some of the country’s best-known multinationals.
Since stepping down as chief executive of the FTSE-100 drinks producer Diageo in 2013, Mr Walsh has built a portfolio of directorships, serving on the boards of companies including Centrica and Unilever.
He is now chairman of Chime Communications, the marketing services group, which is owned by Providence Equity Partners.
Mr Walsh is also a board member of two of the biggest companies in the US: FedEx, the parcel delivery group, and the fast food giant McDonald’s.
Among his toughest challenges as chairman of Compass was dealing with the tragic death of Richard Cousins, the company’s chief executive, in an aeroplane crash in Australia two years ago.
Since appointing Dominic Blakemore as Mr Cousins’ successor, Compass has continued to perform strongly, with its shares up 16% over the last year.
Unveiling full-year revenues of over £25bn in November, Compass said it expected organic sales growth of roughly 5% in 2020.
It also warned, however, of plans to pare back operations in Europe, Brazil and Japan amid signs of economic weakness.
Compass declined to comment on Sunday.
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