Lookers appoints new top team to lead recovery

Shares of Manchester car dealership Lookers plc rose 4% on Wednesday after it announced the promotions of CFO Mark Raban to chief executive officer and Cameron Wade to chief operating officer, both with immediate effect.

In November, Lookers said CEO Andy Bruce and chief operating officer Nigel McMinn would step down immediately after weak sales led to a second profit warning in less than four months.

Wade joined Lookers in December 2016 as franchise director of the group’s Audi sivision. His previous roles include commercial director and managing director at Peter Vardy.

Phil White and Richard Walker will remain in their interim executive roles at Lookers until March 31, 2020, when they will revert to their previous positions of chairman and senior independent director respectively.  

Executive chairman Phil White said: “I am delighted to be announcing Mark’s and Cameron’s new leadership roles.

“They both have significant sector experience which is well suited to both the group’s immediate priorities and longer term strategic objectives.”

New CEO Raban said: “Lookers is a great business which is well positioned to take advantage of the many emerging opportunities across the sector.

“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to lead the group, working closely with our brand partners and supported by a talented team.

“I would like to thank Phil and Richard for their considerable support during the recent transition period.”  

Also on Wednesday, Lookers issued a trading update for the 12 months ended December 31, 2019, ahead of results on March 11, 2020.

“Although challenging, trading during the three-month period ended 31 December 2019 was as expected and the group anticipates reporting underlying profit before tax for the year in-line with the board’s expectations … ” said Lookers. 

“In Q4 the group’s like-for-like unit sales of new vehicles declined by -6.6% (Q3 -3.2%) compared to a UK market decline in new vehicle registrations of -1.6% (Q3 -0.6%).

“This continues to be impacted by the group’s volume brands and is partially driven by a tactical reduction in lower margin fleet volume.

“In addition, whilst we are pleased to report that all dealership sales teams received further training and assessment in the sale of regulated products during November and December, it did impact our sales volumes during Q4.

“Margin pressure continued throughout the period but at lower levels than experienced during Q3 …

“In Q4 the used car market remained stable.

“Like-for-like unit sales of used cars increased by +3.8% (Q3 +2.6%). In Q4 the group remained focused on continuing to reduce and improve the profile of its used vehicle inventory.  

“The margin stabilisation reported in Q3 continued into Q4.”

Raban added: “2019 was a challenging year for Lookers.

“The declining new car market, political and economic uncertainty and increased operating costs were all factors in the group’s decline in profitability.

“Over recent weeks the board has instigated a number of clear and decisive actions to stabilise and improve operational and financial performance.

“The board remains confident about the long-term prospects for the group, benefitting from excellent OEM relationships, strategic trading locations and a strong freehold property portfolio.”