Countrywide has parted ways with its executive chairman after shareholders rejected a private equity rescue deal for the struggling high street estate agent.
Peter Long, who has led the company since January 2018, stepped down on Tuesday after a proposed package he had negotiated with private equity firm Alchemy Partners was rebuffed by shareholders.
Countrywide has appointed the former boss of William Hill, Philip Bowcock, as interim chief executive, as it attempts to arrest a years-long decline.
The management shake-up is the latest twist in a long-running saga at the company, which owns some of the UK’s best known high street estate agencies, including Bairstow Eves and Lambert Smith Hampton.
Countrywide’s valuation has plummeted in recent years, as traditional high street estate agents have contended with growing online competition and shrinking commissions. A quartet of profit warnings and an emergency rights issue in 2018 accelerated a decline in the share price that had been under way since 2015. In little over five years it has fallen more than 98 per cent. Shares in the company fell 1 per cent on Tuesday morning.
In October, shareholder Alchemy Partners launched a takeover bid which valued the company at £1.35 a share, with their proposal also including a £90m cash injection. But other investors rebuffed the approach.
Countrywide said it is now exploring three options: a cash call from existing shareholders, an improved offer from Alchemy and a separate proposal, from rival estate agent Connells, which was made earlier this month. Connells’ all-cash offer values Countrywide at £2.50 a share, or around £80m.
“There are options that are available, I now need to work with shareholders to find the right one,” said Mr Bowcock, who joins with immediate effect.
“My initial focus has to be around providing a solution for shareholders that puts the company on a sounder footing from a financial perspective,” he said.
Chris Millington, an analyst at Numis, said: “Countrywide has underperformed the sector quite heavily over the last few years. The cost base and the systems look like they need restructuring. Someone can extract value but it needs to be in the right hands.”
Last month Countrywide announced a pre-tax loss of £44m for the six months to June 30.
“Can it get brought back to its former glory? It probably won’t get back to where it has been, branch numbers have fallen and the lettings market has ebbed away in the last few years,” said Mr Millington.