Interserve chief White to step down after rescue restructuring

14 November 2019, 19:09 | Updated: 14 November 2019, 22:24

The chief executive of Interserve is to step down at the end of the year, months after leading a rescue restructuring that salvaged more than 40,000 British jobs.

Sky News has learnt that Debbie White, who has run the outsourcing giant for just over two years, is to leave the company next month.

Her departure, which is understood to have been signalled privately to Interserve shareholders several months ago, will come as the group unveils a corporate reorganisation that will leave each of its three main operating divisions with its own chairman and managing director.

Sources said on Thursday evening that the rejig would pave the way for the medium-term break-up of the group.

Ms White's decision to step down, which will be announced publicly on Friday, has emerged nine months after the company was forced to undergo a pre-pack administration that saw it delisted from the London stock market.

Interserve is one of the UK's largest outsourcers, holding contracts to maintain British Army bases overseas and clean buildings occupied by the BBC.

The company employs more than 40,000 people in the UK and around 60,000 globally, and has annual revenues approaching £3bn.

A former executive at ICI, and then AstraZeneca, Ms White held a string of senior roles at the catering and facilities management group Sodexo before joining Interserve in 2017.

She won plaudits from stakeholders for stabilising the company during a turbulent period, including unwinding a string of financially crippling energy-from-waste contracts.

Since its brief spell in administration, from which it emerged under the control of its lenders, Ms White has focused on further improvements to Interserve's financial performance, including through millions of pounds in cost savings.

The corporate reorganisation that will be announced alongside news of Ms White's decision to step down will leave three divisional chairs reporting to the recently appointed group chairman, Alan Lovell.

Ken Hanna, who chairs the FTSE-250 temporary power provider Aggreko, now sits at the helm of RMD Kwikform, the profitable equipment services division that specialises in formwork and ground-shoring for major infrastructure projects.

Interserve's construction arm, which is now focused on sectors such as healthcare and defence, will be chaired by Nick Pollard, an existing group non-executive.

Mr Lovell will chair the support services division, which will be run in an executive capacity by Lynn Mawdsley, Interserve's former deputy chief financial officer.

While none of the individual businesses will be sold this year, the reorganisation suggests that a break-up of the group could begin as soon as sometime in 2020.

As a publicly quoted company, Interserve had considered selling RMDK on several occasions to raise capital, while the group's lenders also explored a separate plan to take control of the unit as part of a pre-administration rescue bid.

Interserve's battle to avoid a Carillion-style collapse underlined renewed questions about the outsourcing sector's ability to finance itself.

Since then, Kier, the construction group, has also found itself facing severe financial headwinds.

Interserve declined to comment on Thursday.