Despite sitting on the boards of some of the UK’s largest Plcs, BrightHouse’s new chairman Henry Staunton likes to keep a low profile.
Staunton, who takes up the role today, is also a former New Look non-executive and is currently chairman of WHSmith. Yet one analyst familiar with WHSmith admitted: “If you’d put me on the spot and asked me who Henry Staunton is I would not have been able to tell you.”
Staunton may fly under the radar but he has a strong deal-making heritage. He joined TV group Granada in 1993 and laid the groundwork for the £5.8bn merger of the company with Carlton in 2004 through a series of hefty acquisitions, including LWT and Forte. A key moment came when Staunton and then-Granada chief executive Charles Allen outmanoeuvred Carlton to buy United News and Media’s ITV franchises in 2000.
Staunton stayed in broadcasting until 2006 and since then has taken on non-executive roles at a wide range of companies including equipment rental company Ashtead, media company Emap, Legal & General and Ladbrokes.
His broad experience has not gone unnoticed. The 66-year-old appeared in The Times Power 100 list in 2006 and was named one of the UK’s top 50 finance movers and shakers by Accountancy Age in 2004.
BrightHouse chief executive Leo McKee is certainly impressed with Staunton. He told Retail Week he believes the company has “a winner” in Staunton because of his Plc board experience, financial services credentials and “relevant commercial expertise”, which he gained at the now-defunct Granada TV Rental chain.
Staunton also draws comparisons between BrightHouse and Granada. He calls the two businesses “very similar” and says BrightHouse has a comparable customer proposition to Granada. He adds that BrightHouse has “excellent cash flow that will fund growth”.
He says: “I was attracted to the BrightHouse role because it is a very substantial business with 3,000 staff, nearly 300 shops, revenue in excess of £330m with growth opportunities from Scotland to Wales to the West country, but especially in London, so I liked the sound of that.
“It has an excellent management team and terrific cash flow. As a chairman I will be a sounding board for strategy, difficult issues, and where we might place our bets.”
Staunton, who became a grandfather in November, adds: “I think it is going to be challenging but very interesting and enjoyable so thoughts of full-time retirement are furthest from my mind”.
Staunton began his working life as an accountant. He joined PwC in 1970 before being appointed partner in 1981. He was born in India and boarded at Ipswich School, spending his holidays visiting his mining engineer father in India. While at school he was a keen sportsman, playing hockey, cricket and public school sporting favourite, fives.
A competitive sporting streak will come in useful at BrightHouse. Staunton has joined the retailer at a key moment in its development. After reporting strong results throughout the recession - EBITDA increased 10.1% to £52.6m in the year to March 31 when sales jumped 12.2% to £333.3m - Vision Capital, its owner for seven years, is likely to be examining exit options. Staunton’s deal-making prowess, as well as his time spent on the board of public companies, will prove invaluable to the retailer if it embarks on a process any time soon.
However, any such deal would inevitably place Staunton in the spotlight, making it that bit harder to keep a low profile.
Current non-executive roles