Shocked staff complain of ‘personality-less firm’ as British boss Jason Millett takes his leave

Bovis Lend Lease has parted company with Jason Millett, its UK chief executive, 18 months after he took over. At the same time, Bob Johnston, the company’s global chief executive, has split the British business into two arms.

Under the new regime one section of the UK company will be devoted to PFI and the other will concentrate exclusively on construction. This will be run by Murray Coleman, the Australian head of Bovis’ Asia Pacific region.

Johnston told Building this week that Millett’s departure was “mutually agreed”. He said: “Jason Millett was sitting across both the construction and PFI business. We had a long discussion and agreed that he would leave the company and pursue other interests.”

However, it is understood that Millett’s departure was sparked not only by the split but because of a clash of personalities with Johnston, an Australian who was promoted to global chief executive one year ago. It is thought these differences have been smouldering for some time.

Millett, who was based in Manchester, joined Bovis 20 years ago as a graduate trainee. He would not comment on the terms of his departure but did say: “I’ve a lot of plans and I’m looking forward to a very exciting future within the industry.” He has not taken on a role at another company.

His departure comes amid rumours that the relationship between Bovis and its parent, Australian developer Lend Lease, is on the rocks. Part of Johnston’s remit is to bring the two closer together.

Millett is contracted to stay at the company until September but is expected to go on gardening leave immediately.

His replacement Coleman flew into London last weekend. He has been with Lend Lease for 20 years, and he has worked closely with Johnston. In the past year he has reported directly to him.

Coleman is not a complete stranger to the UK market. In 2000 he was based here as Bovis’ chief operating officer for the global markets group, where he was primarily focused on the pharmaceutical industry.

He then moved across to lead Bovis’ global safety programme, called “incident and injury-free”, in London. He went back to Australia after four years when Lend Lease moved its head office to Sydney.

We agreed that he would leave the firm and pursue other interests

Bob Johnston, Global Chief

Coleman said that it was too early to comment on his precise plans for the UK business: “I only arrived at the weekend so it will take a little while, but there is nothing broken with the business; we have a very strong platform.”

His office will be in Harrow, north-west London.

Johnston said the PFI business would continue to be run by Roger Thompson, but he would report directly to Johnston, who wants to use the business as a platform to grow its international PFI presence. It has already won hospital work in Italy and Spain.

News of Millett’s departure was announced to staff at Bovis on Wednesday morning.

John Spanswick, chairman of Bovis Lend Lease said: “Jason is a very talented guy and I am obviously disappointed that he is leaving.”

Building received anonymous calls from staff at Bovis on Wednesday in support of Millett. One said: “We are devastated Jason is leaving, it has sent shock-waves across the firm. This personality-less face of Lend Lease is terrible.”

It comes less than two months after Millett led a restructuring by making Phil Wade, Bovis’ head of projects, equivalent to chief operating officer, and creating a retail division.

The UK business has had problems in the recent past. Six months ago it announced a £14m writedown associated with its BBC Broadcasting House refurbishment in London and an office tower Bridgwater House in Leeds.

There has also been speculation that Bovis has run into difficulties on its PFI hospital scheme in Manchester.

On Manchester Johnston said: “There have been a few issues along the way but nothing of major concern. We are reinforcing the team at the moment to meet certain delivery dates.”