Last updated: April 14, 2011 10:42 pm

Becht departure rubs £2bn from Reckitt shares

News that Bart Becht, chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, is to step down from the Anglo-Dutch consumer products group wiped almost £2bn ($3.3bn) from the value of the group’s shares on Thursday.

The FTSE 100 company said Mr Becht, 54, would step down at the end of August. His departure ends more than a decade at the helm of the group – formed from the 1999 merger of the UK’s troubled Reckitt & Colman and Benckiser of the Netherlands – in which he turned Reckitt into a company with an enviable record of creating shareholder value and producing sales and profit growth.

Mr Becht was renowned for his focus on cost-cutting and on innovation across the group’s key brands, such as Finish dishwasher powder and Cillit Bang cleaning products.

He was also very highly paid when Reckitt performed well.

“I will continue to be passionate about the business until August 31,” he said on Thursday.

He made it clear he does not intend to take up a full-time executive position, although he plans to be “active in the corporate world” and to continue his charitable work.

But Adrian Bellamy, chairman, came under pressure from analysts about the timing of Mr Becht’s exit and the company’s decision not to mount a formal search outside the group for his successor.

Mr Becht will be succeeded by Rakesh Kapoor, who has been with Reckitt since 1987 and currently sits on the group’s executive committee as executive vice-president of global category development. Though the announcement took the City by surprise, Mr Bellamy insisted that he had acted appropriately.

He said it was his job to talk to the chief executive on a number of issues and, “when it becomes important enough and firm enough for shareholders to hear, to move fast and inform shareholders accordingly”.

Shares in the group fell 7.5 per cent to £31.15 at Thursday’s close, valuing it at £22.6bn. This was £1.8bn less than its market value at the close of trading on Wednesday.

Mr Becht, a Dutchman who had been Benckiser’s chief executive before heading the combined group after the merger, will stay on as a part-time adviser to Mr Kapoor and remain on the company’s board until September 2012.

Under Mr Becht’s 11-year leadership the market capitalisation of Reckitt has grown by five times. The enlarged group began trading in 1999.

However, the annual results unveiled by Reckitt in February were viewed as disappointing by the market.

Mr Kapoor, 52, was one of the architects of the group’s acquisition of Boots Healthcare International, a deal that gave it control of the Nurofen, Strepsils and Clearasil brands.

He was “equally involved” in the recent purchases of SSL International, the Durex condom maker, and India’s Paras Pharmaceuticals, according to the company.

The news of Mr Becht’s imminent retirement follows the recent departure of Colin Day, the long-serving Reckitt chief financial officer, who left to become chief executive at Filtrona.

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