Rolls-Royce shares plunge as chief executive quits

Warren East said he will stand down later this year after eight years at the helm. The announcement comes as the company returned to profit.

24 February 2022

The boss of aeroplane engine maker Rolls-Royce has quit the business after eight years at the helm.

Warren East said he will leave at the end of the year as now is the “right moment to look to the future”.

His decision to leave comes after a difficult period for the company, which has faced huge hits from the Covid-19 pandemic as airlines were grounded and Rolls-Royce engines remained switched off.

A Rolls-Royce engine
Rolls-Royce has had a difficult pandemic. (Paul Ellis/PA)

The company is paid by customers based on the number of hours flown by its engines.

Shares plunged more than 13% on the announcement – in addition to reaction to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

The news came as the company returned to profit for the first time since the pandemic, recording a £124 million pre-tax profit for 2021 versus a £3.1 billion loss a year earlier.  Revenues fell from £11.5 billion to £11.2 billion.

Mr East said: “We have improved our financial and operational performance, continued to deliver on our commitments and created a better balanced business capable of sustainable growth.

“We have achieved the benefits of our restructuring programme a year ahead of schedule, positioning Civil Aerospace to capitalise on increasing international travel.

“In Defence, we have seen growth driven by strong demand in all our markets and in Power Systems we achieved record order intake in the last quarter.”

Rolls-Royce chief executive
Warren East will leave Rolls-Royce later this year. (Rolls-Royce/PA)

The company had been aiming for savings of £1.3 billion from restructuring the business, including reducing the size of Rolls-Royce by a third with 9,000 job losses.

During the pandemic it had borrowed £7.3 billion through fundraising and taking on more debt, and on Thursday the company revealed it has repaid a 750 million euro (£626 million) bond along with a £300 million loan from the Bank of England. Net debt now stands at £5.2 billion.

Its civil aerospace division saw the biggest recovery, with flying hours up 11% on 2020 as international flights started to recover, while other divisions were stable.

But Rolls-Royce disappointed some investors by revealing it expects revenues to grow by less than 10% this year, with little change in profit margins.

On the chief executive’s decision to leave, chair Anita Frew said: “Warren is an exceptional leader and has set a pioneering vision and strategic direction for Rolls-Royce to lead the transition to net zero across our markets.

“He has shown incredible tenacity, steering the group through unprecedented times, and driven substantial cultural change throughout the organisation.”

A search for a successor is under way, she added.

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