Housebuilder Vistry plunged into chaos by sudden resignation of most senior independent director
- Ashley Steel becomes third member of Bovis brand owner’s board to quit
- Turmoil risks reviving row over exec pay in the housebuilding industry
Patrick Tooher www.dailymail.co.uk
Housebuilder Vistry – whose brands include Bovis Homes – has been plunged into boardroom chaos by the sudden resignation of its most senior independent director.
Ashley Steel, a former vice chair of accountancy firm KPMG, became the third board member to quit in a month when she handed in her notice last week after less than two years.
The turmoil risks reviving the row over fat cat rewards for bosses in the housebuilding industry at a time when young people are struggling to afford a home.
No reason was given for Steel’s departure. However, it comes just a few weeks after she was drafted in as chair of Vistry’s pay panel following a boardroom row over plans to award chief executive Greg Fitzgerald an enormous ‘Jeff Fairburn-style’ bonus package.
Fairburn was the former chief executive of Persimmon who became synonymous with executive greed when he pocketed a £75 million bonus under a pay scheme with no upper limit.
Shares in the housebuilder had soared, thanks in part to the taxpayer-backed Help to Buy scheme.
Under the proposal at Vistry, which was rejected by the board, Fitzgerald would have been in line to receive £60 million if the shares hit £18 within three years. They closed at £7.80 on Friday, valuing the company at £2.7 billion.
Steel had replaced Nigel Keen, who left abruptly last month as head of Vistry’s remuneration committee in protest at the controversial pay plan.
Another director, Katherine Innes Ker, also announced that she was stepping down. Directors feared the proposal would generate similar bad publicity to that heaped on Fairburn, who was ousted as boss of Persimmon in 2018.
Vistry’s pay plan was proposed by US activist investors Inclusive Capital and Browning West. They are also pushing the company to grow its partnerships business, which delivers affordable homes for housing associations. The Mail on Sunday can also reveal that Fitzgerald, who earned £2.4 million at Vistry last year, pocketed another £1.6 million as part-time chairman of his Devon-based housebuilder Baker Estates.
In addition, he received £421,000 in interest on loans he made to Baker, which recently built a £5 million stake in Vistry.
Based in Kent, Vistry became one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders after buying Countryside in a £1.2 billion deal six months ago.
It is not clear if Fitzgerald’s bumper bonus plan will be revived following the clear-out of three key board members. Ralph Findlay, Vistry’s chairman, is said to have agreed to revisit the scheme.
Steel’s exit comes just a fortnight before she was due to stand for re-election at Vistry’s annual meeting.
In a statement to investors, Findlay praised her ‘valuable contribution’ during ‘a period of significant change’.
Vistry said it was ‘entirely comfortable’ with Fitzgerald’s role at Baker Estates. His involvement did not impact his responsibilities to Vistry, the company added, and had been disclosed in all annual reports since he joined Bovis Homes in 2017.
UNACCEPTABLE FACE OF FAT CAT PAY
Jeff Fairburn became the unacceptable face of fat cat pay when he trousered a £75 million bonus in 2018 on the back of a taxpayer-funded housing scheme.
The jackpot was one of the largest in corporate history and made the former boss of housebuilder Persimmon the UK’s highest paid director.
His incentive plan had no upper limit. Critics said it paid out so handsomely because the Government’s Help to Buy plan had boosted Persimmon’s profits and share price.
Pay campaigners dubbed it ‘excessive and unearned’. The adverse publicity eventually forced Fairburn to quit.
He is listed as having 27 active directorships on Companies House, including privately-owned housebuilder Berkeley DeVeer, where he is chief executive.