URW CEO ousted as ‘transition phase’ begins

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) CEO Christophe Cuvillier has been forced out amid the company’s disastrous ‘reset’ plan that has sensationally backfired for senior management at the company.

Last night, URW confirmed news that leaked out to a French newspaper over the weekend that Cuvillier would be falling on his sword to be replaced by URW’s US president Jean-Marie Tritant as chairman of the management board and group CEO from 1 January 2021.

The embattled company added that during a transition phase starting on Thursday, November 19, 2020, Tritant would hold the position of group COO. Future changes to the management board will be announced at a later date.

As previously reported, chairman of the supervisory board, Colin Dyer, has already resigned after shareholder activists successfully worked to topple the property company’s hierarchy in a saga which began on September 16 when URW first presented its plan to “Reset” as a crucial financial idea to future proof the retail and office owner in a retail world ‘facing unprecedented challenges with the Covid-19 crisis’.

URW’s plan resulted from an ‘in depth’ analysis of all options by the ‘entire senior management team and supervisory board’ since April this year.

The answer, it said, was a ‘prudent and right-sized’ €3.5 bn capital raise, forming part of a wider €9 bn-plus deleveraging plan including an acceleration of a €4 bn disposal plan by the end of 2021, €1 bn of savings by limiting dividends paid to shareholders over two years, and reducing capital expenditure by €800 mln.

It has already sold €5.3 bn of assets in two years. 

However, activist shareholders vociferously rejected the plan, putting forward an alternative strategy called ‘Refocus’ rather than ‘Reset’, and URW went on to lose the argument at a combined general meeting on November 9.

The rebel consortium, which raised its combined holding in URW to over 5% last month, managed to persuade a sufficient number of shareholders that the mooted rights issue was a 'failed strategy'.

Although 61.62% of votes were cast in favour, URW failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to launch the capital raise.

Chief antagonist is Frenchman Léon Bressler, the former chairman and CEO of the company, who previously led the group to major growth amid critical acclaim, and who has replaced Dyer as chairman of the supervisory board. He also runs independent London-based European private real estate investment firm, Aermont.

Yesterday, Bressler said: ‘A transition phase is beginning for URW. I am delighted that Christophe Cuvillier has agreed to lead it for the group. His long experience as CEO, particularly during the ongoing health and economic crisis, will be very valuable. I am convinced that Jean-Marie will lead the company with great success.’

Cuvillier declared: ‘During this transition phase, I will work as always to protect the group and help it go through this major crisis. I wish every success in his new position to Jean-Marie Tritant, with whom I have worked for close to 10 years.

‘I wish that the group continues to nurture its spirit of innovation and pursues an ambition commensurate with the quality of its teams and assets. I would like here to pay tribute to all those with whom I have had the honour of working to develop URW.’

Tritant explained: ‘This appointment is for me an immense honour and I fully appreciate the trust that has been placed in me.

‘URW is an exceptional company that I joined more than 20 years ago and is leader in its sector. I know that I can count on the group’s teams, their talent, and their energy. Thanks to them, we will be able to build on the group's future successes. I would like to commend the tireless work accomplished by Christophe Cuvillier at the helm of URW since 2013 and his commitment to ensure a smooth transition as from today.’


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