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It’s turmoil at the top in great Footsie farewell

Britain’s blue-chip companies are going through one of the biggest ever upheavals in top management, as seven stalwart Footsie chief executives have either gone or declared their exit since the start of the year.

The changing of the guard comes at a highly sensitive time, with the world economy on a knife-edge and the FTSE 100 index losing ground compared with Wall Street.

Those stepping down include City stalwarts Nigel Wilson, the head of Legal & General, and Ivan Menezes, chief executive of Diageo, the maker of Guinness and Baileys.

It heralds shake-ups at some of Britain’s best-known firms, as leaders such as Wilson, who have made a distinctive mark on their businesses, make way for fresh faces.

Water group United Utilities and safety equipment maker Halma both waved goodbye to longstanding bosses on Friday.

Handovers: Andrew Williams, left, and Steve Mogford

Steve Mogford, 66, at United Utilities has handed over to Louise Beardmore, previously the company’s customer service and people director. She takes over at a delicate moment when water companies are under intense scrutiny.

Shareholders may miss Mogford, who has overseen returns of 213 per cent since he began 12 years ago.

The exit of Andrew Williams, boss of health and safety equipment group Halma, is likely to be keenly felt. At 55, he is the youngest boss on the departures list, but has clocked up the longest run as chief executive, with 18 years in the hotseat.

Over that time, shareholders have seen returns of 1,896 per cent – big boots to fill for his successor, finance head Marc Ronchetti.

Menezes, 63, called time on his stint at Diageo last week and investors will raise a toast to a successful tenure. He will hand over to Debra Crew, Diageo’s president in North America and the former chief executive of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Four of the seven bosses have led their companies for a decade or more, including Menezes. Legal & General’s Wilson has spent 11 years running Britain’s biggest asset manager, during which he has made it his mission to push ‘inclusive capitalism’ by investing in UK infrastructure including transport, housing and universities.

No successor has been appointed yet and the 66-year-old has said he is happy to stay until one is found.

Two relative unknowns have taken the reins at Shell and Rolls-Royce, both of which saw CEOs leave at the start of the year. Shell’s veteran boss Ben Van Beurden, 64, who raked in more than £86 million during his nine-year tenure, handed over to Wael Sawan, who had been overseeing the company’s green transformation before landing the top job.

Sawan will need to steer the group towards becoming a green powerhouse – something that many in the industry said Van Beurden had failed to achieve quickly enough.

At Rolls-Royce, Warren East, 61, did not manage to lead the company to glory. He is the only one of the departing CEOs to have presided over a dramatic fall in the value of shares, with total returns for investors falling by almost two-thirds from when he started in 2015.

But he did save the flagship manufacturing group from possible bankruptcy in the pandemic when planes were grounded and income from aero-engine servicing contracts dried up.

Rolls has drafted in the head of BP’s petrol station business, Tufan Erginbilgic, who has started a massive overhaul of the group, after criticising the previous regime. He has already poached several executives from BP to right the ship.

At Unilever, boss Alan Jope, 59, is due to stand down at the end of 2023 after 37 years with the consumer goods giant.

His four years at the helm have been marked by controversy, notably over an abortive £50 billion bid in 2022 to buy GlaxoSmithKline’s healthcare arm, and for ‘woke’ virtue signalling. He is being replaced by Hein Schumacher, head of a Dutch dairy co-operative, an appointment backed by activist investor Nelson Peltz. Investors will be hoping that Schumacher and the other new bosses can restore Britain’s productivity.