Kingfisher hire gives FTSE 100 its fifth female CEO

10 September 2014 -

“Veronique"

Product knowledge and lengthy experience propel Frenchwoman Véronique Laury to replace Sir Ian Cheshire at top of home-improvement group

Jermaine Haughton

The owner of British retail fixture B&Q has appointed Véronique Laury as its CEO, making her only the fifth female leader in the FTSE 100. The Frenchwoman – currently heading up Kingfisher’s DIY business across the Channel – will replace the company’s longstanding chief executive Sir Ian Cheshire at the end of January, marking the end of his seven-year reign.

Laury will join a small clutch of female FTSE 100 chiefs, which currently includes Royal Mail’s Moya Greene, easyJet’s Carolyn McCall, Imperial Tobacco’s Alison Cooper and Sevdrn Trent’s Liv Garfield. According to the departing Cheshire, it was essential to put a woman with extensive knowledge of the home improvements sector in charge – particularly because around 90% of consumer purchase decisions at Kingfisher firms are made by women.

Kingfisher has recently struggled in its major markets, such as the UK and France, and its shares have underperformed in the wider FTSE-100 index by almost 30% in the past year. Importantly, though, the group’s decision stands as another step forward to a greater acceptance of female industry leaders among recruiters – but many more hurdles remain.

For example, media reaction to female bosses seemed to be stuck in an antiquated era with the recent news that Rona Fairhead had emerged as the government’s preferred candidate to lead the BBC Trust – a move that, if it goes ahead, would make her the first woman ever to do so. As Professional Manager reported last week, the Sunday Telegraph’s print edition heralded the news with the headline: “Mother of three poised to lead the BBC”. Critics spied sexism, and accused the paper of focusing more on Fairhead’s fertility than her ability.

In an interview last year with CMI chief executive Ann Francke, acclaimed barrister Cherie Blair said that bosses can no longer use career-break related excuses to justify gender-based salary disparities and the lack of women in senior positions. The wife of former prime minister Tony Blair told CMI stressed: “Of course you can find women if you want them! It’s about not taking a view on who’s going to succeed in business based on decisions that are made in people’s late twenties and thirties, when women want to have children.

She added: “We need to accept that in a working life of 40 years you can make different choices as to how far you put your foot down on the accelerator pedal at home and at work. We seem to have this idea that you make that choice once, and you don’t get the chance to change gear.”

While Laury’s rise to the top of Kingfisher after 11 years there provides optimism for campaigners for greater gender equality in Britain’s leading firms, the appointment is also designed to usher in fresh ideas and a new approach to the company. Kingfisher has concrete plans in place to overhaul computer systems, expand in new markets and absorb its Mr Bricolage acquisition in France – all over the next five years. Laury is seen as the right individual to lead the success of those projects.

Kingfisher chairman Daniel Bernard said: “Our strategy of making home improvement easier for our customers while creating competitive advantage from our international scale and know-how – known as ‘Creating the Leader’ – is the right one, and we are more determined than ever to successfully execute this strategy and deliver profitable growth for our shareholders.”

He added: “Following a rigorous review of candidates, internally and externally, the Board believe Ms Laury is uniquely qualified to lead the business on the next leg of its journey. She is an outstanding retailer, with 26 years’ experience of home improvement retailing in France and the UK. She is passionate about helping customers have better homes and we are delighted that she has agreed to provide the leadership, pace and drive to deliver our strategy.”

Read about CMI chief executive Ann Francke’s call for a “management makeover”.

Image of Véronique Laury courtesy of Kingfisher.

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