Foxtons gazumps London rival Chestertons with raid on CEO Gittins

Business

Foxtons has raided rival London estate agent Chestertons to poach its chief executive as it faces pressure from activist shareholders to sell the company.

Sky News has learnt that Foxtons has decided to appoint Guy Gittins as its new boss, replacing Nic Budden, who has run the business for nearly eight years.

Foxtons could announce the move, which was rumoured in industry circles over the weekend, as soon as Monday morning.

Mr Gittins was reported late last week to have stepped down from his role at Chestertons with immediate effect, but with no indication of his destination.

The appointment of a new CEO represents another step in chairman Nigel Rich’s efforts to improve Foxtons’ performance after a period in which its shares have continued to slide even as house prices in the capital have hit record highs.

Foxtons’ shares have slumped by 38% over the last year, leaving it with a market value of just £115m – a far cry from its 267p-a-share flotation in 2013.

Mr Rich was parachuted in last autumn amid pressure from a number of large shareholders, including Converium Capital, a Canadian investment fund, which was reported to have written to Foxtons to urge its board to put it up for sale.

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Foxtons has endured a rocky ride from shareholders over executive pay packages after receiving taxpayer support during the pandemic, as well as aspects of its corporate strategy.

A year ago, Hosking Partners, which at the time held an 11% stake in the estate agent, called for “radical board-level change” at the company.

Last week, it announced the acquisitions of Gordon & Co and Stones Residential, two smaller peers, for a combined £10.5m.

Since joining, Mr Rich has reshaped the Foxtons board, recruiting Peter Rollings, a former executive at the company, as a non-executive director.

Its first-quarter lettings revenue, reported in April, was the bright spot in an update to the City.

Coincidentally, given the investor demands for Foxtons to sell itself, Mr Gittins is joining from an estate agent which has itself been in discussions about a sale.

Last December, Sky News revealed that a new residential lettings group backed by the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group was in talks to buy Chestertons, one of the world’s oldest estate agents.

Lomond Group, which is part-owned by LDC, was in exclusive negotiations about a deal that could value Chestertons at nearly £100m, but the talks are since thought to have stalled.

Chestertons, which was founded in 1805, is owned by an investment vehicle of Salah Mussa, a Libyan businessman who acquired it in 2005.

In a post on the professional networking site LinkedIn on Friday, Mr Gittins said the decision to leave Chestertons was “exceptionally difficult and has come after a great deal of reflection on my personal long-term career aspirations”.

A Foxtons spokesman declined to comment.

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