Belfast Telegraph

Mr Kipling maker shakes up management following boardroom battle

The Bisto and Ambrosia owner has named Alex Whitehouse as its new boss, months after Gavin Darby was pushed out of the top role.

Premier Foods has announced a major boardroom reshuffle after its previous chief and chairman were pushed out by activist investors (Premier Foods/PA)
Premier Foods has announced a major boardroom reshuffle after its previous chief and chairman were pushed out by activist investors (Premier Foods/PA)

By Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter

Mr Kipling maker Premier Foods has named Alex Whitehouse as its new boss, after its previous chief was ousted earlier this year following a vicious boardroom battle.

The appointment of Mr Whitehouse, the company’s UK managing director, as chief executive comes months after Gavin Darby left the firm following an aggressive campaign by activist investors.

The former chief executive stepped down in January, after narrowly avoiding a defeat for re-election at the company’s annual shareholder meeting a year ago.

Mr Whitehouse will take over the leadership at a testing time, which has seen activists Paulson and Oasis Management take seats on the Bisto owner’s board as they seek to slash the group’s debt mountain.

The US investors called for a leadership change and accused Mr Darby of “persistent value destruction” at the company, whose debts are now almost £470 million.

In February, the company said it would review its portfolio of products and could sell some of its famous brands as it looks to steady its finances.

Premier’s board was also criticised after it handed Mr Darby a £863,000 pay-off, with shareholder advisory groups recommending investors vote down the plan in a year which saw the company reveal pre-tax losses of £42.7 million.

Alex Whitehouse, Premier Foods CEO (Premier/PA)

It is understood that Mr Whitehouse’s salary for the role is currently being finalised.

The new boss, who has been with the company for five years, will take over from acting boss and previous chief financial officer Alastair Murray, who also confirmed his immediate exit from the business on Friday.

Mr Murray will be replaced as CFO by current group director of financial control Duncan Leggett on an interim basis.

The major boardroom reshuffle has also seen former Essentra chief Colin Day named as non-executive chairman of the company.

His appointment comes after previous chairman Keith Hamill left the board following the shareholder pressure.

Mr Whitehouse said: “I’m delighted to become Premier Foods’ CEO and look forward to working with Colin and the board to drive further value from our great portfolio of brands.

“I’m very encouraged by the improved performance of the business over the last couple of years and see this as something we can build on further.”

Senior independent director Richard Hodgson said: “We are very pleased that Alex Whitehouse, who has led the successful turnaround of our UK business, has accepted the role of group CEO.

“I am delighted that Colin Day is joining the company as chairman, a role to which he will bring extensive experience at a pivotal time in the company’s history.”