Ocado was dealt a further blow on Monday when Andrew Bracey, its finance director, quit the online grocer to join recruitment company Michael Page.
Shares in Ocado fell almost 9 per cent in early trade, although they recovered some of the losses to close down 2.3 per cent, at 85.6p, on concerns over Mr Bracey’s departure, which comes only a month after a substantial profit warning.
Philip Dorgan, analyst at Panmure Gordon, and a longstanding critic of Ocado, said: “Losing an FD when you’re in such a big expansion phase is not good.”
Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital, and another critic of Ocado, said: “Ocado has been billed by some as one of the great future forward-thinking organisations, with leading edge technological wizardry for the 21st century. For Andrew Bracey to leave that organisation at this juncture isn’t a great source of confidence in that story.”
Mr Bracey, an investment banker for nearly 20 years, joined the group in the autumn of 2009 to steer it towards its 180p a share flotation in July 2010. He had been a long-time adviser to Ocado before his appointment.
Tim Steiner, chief executive, insisted that Mr Bracey’s move to be finance director of Michael Page, was driven by Mr Bracey’s own career planning, and not deeper issues at Ocado.
“He has been offered an opportunity to become chief financial officer at another FTSE 250 company that is one with a bigger turnover than us, and where the chief executive has been in situ for a very long period of time,” said Mr Steiner.
People close to the situation said the role at Michael Page offered significant international experience, and could be a stepping stone to a FTSE 100 finance director or chief executive role.
Ocado has begun the search for a successor to Mr Bracey, who will leave in April, and will retain his 820,000 shares and 4.7m share options.
Both Mr Bracey and Mr Steiner denied the move indicated any issues with Ocado’s financial position, even though capital expenditure is being cut by about £80m, and some analysts are concerned that it may need to raise fresh capital.
“We have no financing issues whatsoever. The covenants are in extremely good shape,” said Mr Bracey.
One significant shareholder remained broadly supportive, saying that Mr Bracey had been considering the job at Michael Page for some time. However, shareholders had set a series of milestones for the group, which it must now achieve.
Mr Bracey’s departure comes amid speculation that Ocado could be vulnerable to a takeover.
Mr Steiner denied the company had put itself up for sale, nor had it received any approaches.
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