Alison Brittain will be the sixth female FTSE 100 chief executive when she takes over Whitbread in January. But investors weren’t starry-eyed at the prospect of the Costa Coffee and Premier Inn owner flying the flag for equality. Rather, they were concerned the Lloyds’ retail banking boss had got the nod over an internal candidate.
The group’s shares were down more than 1% to 5,200p in mid-morning trading as traders digested the news the expected successor to Andy Harrison, Costa’s managing director and former group CFO Chris Rogers, had missed out on the top job.
‘I'm a bit surprised,’ Numis analyst Wyn Ellis told Reuters. ‘She doesn't seem to have had any sort of quoted company CEO experience before, it is a little bit left field.’
Brittain is a banker through and through, aside from her non-executive directorship at Marks & Spencer, with a career taking her through the retail ranks in Barclays, Santander and then Lloyds. But that shouldn’t disqualify her – she’s been selling to customers too, just bank accounts instead of a bed for the night.
And there are plenty of examples of outsiders being the right man/woman for the job. Harrison came from EasyJet in 2010 and his successor, former Guardian Media Group boss Carolyn McCall, was dismissed as a ‘media luvvie’ before piloting the budget airline into the FTSE 100.
But Harrison leaves some pretty big shoes (Coffee cups? Beds?) to fill. Before he announced his departure, Whitbread’s market cap had grown 261% to £9.65bn under his reign, as he delivered double-digit sales and profit growth.
Moreover, there has been lots of speculation Costa will be spun out soon, despite the company’s repeated denials. Rogers could of course still be the boss of an independent Costa in future, but it’s not yet clear what Brittain feels about it all. Perhaps a double shot of espresso will help her decide.