The number of director changes at UK public businesses has jumped since the coronavirus outbreak in a sign that the pandemic is driving an overhaul of British boardrooms.

There were 232 board-level moves in April, 13 per cent higher than the monthly average of 206 over the past two years, according to New Street Group, an executive search company.

There were 108 board moves during the first nine working days of May, according to the data, which examined shareholder announcements by London Stock Exchange-listed companies.

High-profile departures in recent weeks include Aston Martin chief executive Andy Palmer, who left late last month after the company’s share price fell significantly, and Royal Mail boss Rico Back, who stepped down from his role unexpectedly in mid-May.

Doug Baird, chief executive of New Street Group, said while many of the recent appointments and departures will have been planned before coronavirus, it was evident more companies were overhauling their boards to ensure they could “respond to the new challenges” caused by the pandemic.

“The last three months have seen an unprecedented shift in the demands on senior executives,” he said.

“Few companies would deny that hasn’t caused strains. It’s not surprising that businesses are dealing with that by stepping up the pace of board changes and bringing forward succession plans,” he said.

He added: “Growing a business in the good times and making sure it survives through the tough times can require different skillsets or experience.”

Several finance directors announced their departures in recent weeks, including easyJet’s Andrew Findlay, who advised the board of his intention to leave, and James Davies, who resigned as chief financial officer of online estate agent Purplebricks in April. Ian Crabb, chief executive of LSL Property Services, which owns estate agency Your Move, also resigned suddenly in early May.

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There have also been directorial changes at companies from retailer Marks and Spencer to housebuilder Persimmon.

A big UK investor said it was “vital that boards have the right people” in place to deal with the fallout of the pandemic, which has left many businesses with little or no revenues coming in.

“This [situation] is when the board can really shows its colours — by supporting the executives and making sure they do the right thing. The most important thing in all of this is not just to be looking out for yourself, but your employees, your shareholders, suppliers and customers,” he said.


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