In the City certain time-honoured traditions are not quite dead – or are at least not dead everywhere. The agreeably face-saving exit, generally accompanied by a pot of gold, is one.
I remarked on this when listed pioneer DWF announced CEO Andrew Leaitherland’s abrupt departure earlier this month. The stock market was told he had ‘informed the board of his intention to step down with immediate effect’. A peculiar phrase, in context.
In a traditional firm, little more might have been disclosed about a head honcho’s departure. Especially when he had personally charted the business’s apparently meteoric rise. A slap on the back; a hefty cheque; and farewell.
Alas, the stock market’s disclosure requirements do not permit such discretion. So we learned that Leaitherland’s severance from the business was in fact – or is, in fact – somewhat protracted. He’s getting a year’s payoff, but some of the share options he accrued have been clawed back. The company is even contributing towards his legal fees.
All a bit messy, notwithstanding the conciliatory fug of warm words buffering the unpleasantness. Nor did the Gazette miss the company’s (unintentionally?) double-edged assertion concerning the immediate appointment as CEO of Sir Nigel Knowles: ‘The board believes that strong and experienced leadership is essential.’
Of course, this is the reality of life at the helm of a quoted company. Reputations count for little. Investors generally fixated on the value of their stake and short-term returns are not minded to allow for fallow periods in a business. Even a legal business. They are essentially insatiable. Gratitude is merely the anticipation of favours to come.
Still, if DWF’s boardroom shakeup and trading update were intended to reassure the market, they don’t seem to have worked. Shares trading as high as 140p in March closed down 19% at 66p on the day of the announcement. As I write, they continue to languish.
Some analysts are suggesting DWF’s very public (and personalised) tribulations will serve as a powerful disincentive to further law firm flotations. They may well be right.