Sir John Peace retires as non-executive Chairman.  Don Roberts stepping up to succeed him.  Brian Cassin appointed CEO.

The senior management changes announced by Experian this week, which will come into effect in July 2014 signal both the end of an era and continuity of succession. With the announcement of Sir John Peace’s retirement from the position as non-executive chairman, Don Robert will be stepping up from CEO to succeed him.

john_peaceSir John Peace was one of the founding fathers of CCN, the company that on the acquisition of TRW Information Systems and Services merged to form Experian in 1998. CCN had begun life in 1980, to commercialise the credit and marketing information, that its parent Great Universal Stores (GUS), had amassed in its credit operations to support what was then one of the UK’s largest mail order retailers. It was his vision of a global information services business that drove the growth of CCN initially in the UK and ultimately persuaded the GUS board to spend $1bn on the acquisition of TRW in 1998.  For those interested in the full story, Nigel Watson’s book “Experian the story so far” is available from Experian.

Whilst Sir John’s role in the development of Experian is a remarkable story, perhaps more remarkable is his role in the break-up of GUS, following his appointment as CEO of the company in 1999 and the value that this strategy generated for shareholders. From his appointment in 1999 to October 2006 when Experian was listed on the London Stock Exchange and GUS ceased to be a public company, he oversaw the sale of the mail order business that was in decline, the listing of Burberry in December 2005, and in October 2006 the listing of Experian and Home Retail Group. Today these three companies have a combined market capitalisation of £19.6bn, a significant increase from the £6bn that GUS was worth when he became CEO.

In his role as non-executive Chairman of Experian, his intimate knowledge of the business and understanding of the information services market has played a vital part in Experian’s growth since its listing in 2006. He will continue in his roles as chairman of Burberry and Standard Chartered Bank.

Don Robert (1)Experian clearly hope that promoting Don Robert to replace him will ensure that a similar level of support will be given to the new CEO Brian Cassin. Mr Cassin has been CFO of Experian since March 2012 and was one of the senior advisors to GUS during the demerger of Experian and Home Retail Group in 2006. Whilst promoting the CEO to Chairman is not seen as best corporate governance practice, in this case it can be argued that the continuity provided by Mr Robert stepping up to non-executive chairman should be good for the company.

Elsewhere Experian have made other changes in their senior management team as part of their succession planning. Kerry Williams, who joined Experian in 2003, and has been responsible for Experian’s Credit Services business globally and their operations in Latin America, was recently appointed Deputy Chief Operating Officer. It has to be assumed that this is in preparation for him taking the role of COO from Chris Callero, who has been Don Robert’s right hand man for many years, but may now be considering stepping down himself.

Brian CassinSenior Management changes, particularly of the CEO and Chairman represent a critical juncture for any company. Sir John Peace and Don Robert have driven the company in partnership for almost 10 years and although the changes made should ensure continuity, they come at a time when Experian is facing challenges in Latin America and still needs to convince the market about its long term strategy. One would suspect that the next 12-18 months will be a critical period for the business and the new CEO.

Author:  Phil Cotter, founder and CEO of Cotter Consulting Ltd.; BIIA’s deputy managing director and contributing editor