British American Tobacco, the world's second-biggest cigarette maker, has recruited Richard Burrows, the former chairman of Bank of Ireland (BoI), to be its new chairman.
The maker of Kent, Dunhill, Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarettes said on Wednesday Burrows, a non-smoker, would succeed Jan du Plessis, who is stepping down on November 1 after five years as chairman to take on the same role at miner Rio Tinto.
Shares in BAT were down 1.6 percent at 1,870 pence at 5:53 a.m. EDT, valuing the business at 36.8 billion pounds ($60.6 billion).
Burrows' previous executive experience was in the drinks industry, as chief executive of Irish Distillers from 1978 to 2000 and co-chief executive of French spirits group Pernod Ricard from 2000 to 2005, based in Paris.
He is also on the boards of Danish brewer Carlsberg and pest control-to-parcel delivery firm Rentokil Initial Plc.
His appointment, which has been the subject of media speculation, may prove controversial due to his prior role at BoI, which was badly hit during the financial crisis. Its profits and share price slumped, prompting an apology from Burrows to investors before he left in July.
However, Nick Scheele, BAT's senior independent director, said Burrows' career in the worldwide fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector made him an excellent choice, as did his proven ability to work with a team from various cultures and countries.
Sector analysts welcomed his branding and marketing experience.
They said that, as BAT is currently performing well and already has a strong management team under Chief Executive Paul Adams, Burrows' arrival was unlikely to herald any major shift in strategy, while his time at BoI was likely to be glossed over.
There's no reason to come in with a sledgehammer, there might be slight tweaking ... but overall the strategy is working well and I'd be surprised if there's wholesale changes, said one.
In July, BAT, which sells its brands in over 180 countries, beat forecasts with a 25 percent rise in first-half earnings and predicted strong full-year growth. The firm said it was, however, concerned about rising unemployment and tax rises.
(Editing by Victoria Bryan and Simon Jessop)