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Finance boss of car dealership Inchcape steps down after verbal incident

Gijsbert de Zoeten
Gijsbert de Zoeten

The finance chief of Inchcape has abruptly quit the car dealership following a verbal incident at a recent company event.

The FTSE 250 business said Gijsbert de Zoeten stepped down after a “lapse of judgement” that led to his behaviour “fall[ing] short of the high standards expected”.

It is understood that the incident was verbal rather than physical and took place at an event where alcohol was served. It is not known whether Mr de Zoeten consumed any alcohol at the event.

Last week, the car dealer's global leadership team held a gathering in Texas, though it was not clear if the incident was related to this event.

The company did not elaborate on what happened but a source claimed that it was “the sort of behaviour that 10 to 20 years ago wouldn't have been considered out of the norm”.

Inchcape said the Dutch native would be standing down from the board without any payment for loss of office.

Mr de Zoeten was in line for a £4m bonus this year if the company met targets set by the board, but it is understood that he has agreed to forgo his share options.

Inchcape said its current financial controller Adrian Lewis will step in as acting finance chief until a new permanent successor is found.

The company said the decision is “unrelated to the company's financial performance or strategic direction”, including the acquisition of the Latin American car dealer Derco earlier this year.

Shares in Inchcape fell nearly 4pc on Monday following the announcement of Mr de Zoeten's departure.

Mr de Zoeten was previously an executive at Unilever and worked at the consumer goods giant for nearly three decades. He joined Inchcape in August 2019 from Dutch group LeasePlan Corporation where he also served as finance chief.

Inchcape declined to give details about the event during which the incident occurred.

Last week, the company posted an image on LinkedIn of its leadership team at a gathering in Austin, Texas. Mr de Zoeten is visible in the picture from the event.

The caption on the post said: “This week our global leadership team came from all over the world to Austin, TX to share strategy and storytelling. The conversations have been as dynamic and exciting as our brilliant industry, and our leaders are ready to bring their stories back to their markets and functions in the coming weeks.

“Thank you to everyone who contributed with such enthusiasm, energy and open mindedness over the weekend as we write Inchcape's next chapter to Accelerate Our Ambition!”

Mr Lewis, the acting finance chief, joined Inchcape in 2015 and held senior roles in its emerging markets and Asia-Pacific divisions, where he was based in Singapore. Prior to joining the company, he held senior finance roles at Tesco.

In July, Inchcape snapped up Derco, for £1.3bn. It is the biggest car distributor in Latin America, running sites in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. The deal is still subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.

On Monday, Inchcape also announced that Juan Pablo Del Río, a Derco board member and one of its largest shareholders, will be joining the UK-based car dealer’s board as a non-executive director if the takeover gets the green light.

Derco distributes Suzuki, Mazda and Chevrolet vehicles in Chile, Peru and Colombia, as well as Bolivia, which is a new market for Inchcape.

At the time of the deal, Duncan Tait, Inchcape’s chief executive, said: “We have long admired Derco’s business. Together we will have extensive access to customer and vehicle data, which is at the heart of our strategy to capture a greater share of the vehicle life-cycle value.”

The FTSE 250 car dealer was formed out of the old Inchcape trading empire, which traces its roots back to 1862 when it listed in London as the British India Steam Navigation Company.

While it is best known for its dealerships in the UK, the modern Inchcape relies on its distribution business for around three quarters of its earnings, which works with car manufacturers to ship, sell and service vehicles to smaller markets such as Romania and Ethiopia.