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CFO of car company Inchcape quits amid “personal behaviour” scandal

Car dealership Inchcape said its finance officer’s resignation has nothing to do with its financial performance (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)
Car dealership Inchcape said its finance officer’s resignation has nothing to do with its financial performance (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)

The finance boss of car dealership giant Inchcape has dramatically quit amid a “personal behaviour” scandal.

The FTSE 250 quoted business surprised the City this morning by revealing that Dutch CFO Gijsbert de Zoeten had “voluntarily” resigned and would be standing down from the board with immediate effect.

In a statement the company said: “This follows an incident at a recent event where, through a lapse in judgement, [de Zoeten] displayed personal behaviour falling short of the high standards expected of the leadership of the group.”.

The company declined to give any further details about the nature of the indiscretion, but said his decision to quit was unrelated to the company’s financial performance and has nothing to do with its ongoing acquisition of Latin American rival Derco.

His details had been removed from the Inchcape website by the time the announcement was made to the stock exchange at 7am.

It is the latest example of a senior business executive’s career being derailed by poor behaviour no longer considered survivable at a time of far higher expectations about personal conduct.

Former McDonald’s boss Steve Easterbrook was fired by the fast food giant in 2019 after having a relationship with a colleague, and McDonald’s later accused him of covering up relationships with three other employees.

Elsewhere, cosmetics company Estee Lauder forced out executive John Demsey earlier this year after he acknowledged a racist meme on a personal social media account.

Days later, Ralph Lauren’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer Howard Smith resigned after the retailer learned of allegations regarding his personal conduct.

De Zoeten has worked at Inchcape since September 2019 having previously worked for LeasePlan Corporation, which had been owned by VW Group. He was also CFO at Unilever Europe for six years.

Inchcape’s accounts show that last year de Zoeten was paid £1.36 million, including a £778,000 bonus. He will not receive any pay off for the loss of his job.

Adrian Lewis, the company’s group financial controller, has been appointed acting group chief financial officer, having worked at Inchcape since 2015.

A process to hire a permanent successor to de Zoeten is underway.

The scandal comes at a time when Inchcape is trying to scale up its business and break into new markets.

The company currently operates its vehicle distribution, retail and services business in 40 countries and geographies across Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and the UK.

It works with brands including Audi, Jaguar, Jeep, Rolls Royce and Mini and has more than 100 UK dealerships.

Its plan to acquire Derco, the largest independent automotive distributor in Latin America with a value of £1.3 billion, would give Inchcape a strengthened foothold in markets across Chile, Peru and Colombia, and give it a presence in Bolivia for the first time.

The company had been due to issue the class 1 circular for the Derco acquisition to shareholders today ahead of a vote on the deal in the coming weeks.

Despite the news about de Zoeten, it said on Monday that the process would go ahead as planned, and would “reaffirm the group’s 2022 outlook”.

In its latest trading update to the market published at the end of last month, Inchcape said it had recorded strong revenue growth in the third quarter and expected to meet or exceed its profit guidance for the full year.

Revenue was up 24% on a reported basis to £2.1 billion in the three months to the end of September, including adjustments for the disposal of Inchcape’s Russian business in the second quarter.