Controversial former Persimmon boss will not replace Pete Redfern at housebuilder, sources say

Jeff Fairburn, the controversial former Persimmon chief executive, is not in the running to become chief executive of Taylor Wimpey following the resignation of Pete Redfern last week, according to an informed source.

Jeff Fairburn

Jeff Fairburn is chairman of Avant Homes

There had been speculation that Fairburn was being lined up for the role after it emerged that Elliott Advisers was building a stake in Taylor Wimpey. The activist investor also backed the shock takeover, spearheaded by Fairburn, of Avant Homes by Berkeley deVeer earlier this year.

Elliott Advisers, which has a reputation for forcing major changes at listed firms, has made clear that it wants an external candidate to replace Redfern at Taylor Wimpey. It now claims to be one of the five biggest shareholders in the £2.7bn turnover housebuilder.

However, a source familiar with the situation said there were no plans for Elliott Advisers to attempt to install Fairburn at the firm, either as chief executive or on to the board.

The source said he understood that Elliott Advisers were keen to see other current and former listed housebuilder executives considered for the role. These include current Crest Nicholson CEO Peter Truscott, Fairburn’s successor at Persimmon Dave Jenkinson and Barratt deputy CEO Stephen Boyes.

The source said that Elliott was not pushing for Fairburn to have a role in Taylor Wimpey – “not as an executive, and not as a non-executive”.

Pete Redfern

Taylor Wimpey chief executive Pete Redfern

The news comes after Redfern, the long-time chief executive, announced his plan to step down last week. He insisted the move was not driven by pressure from Elliott Advisors.

Fairburn would be a hugely controversial choice for the Taylor Wimpey job, having produced record shareholder returns in his time as Persimmon before leaving after a political furore over a £75m bonus package. He was subsequently revealed to have presided over a “systematic, nartionwide” failure by the company to correctly install vital fire-stopping cavity barriers in its timber-frame homes.

Fairburn, who was appointed chairman of Avant in April following its acquisition by Berkeley DeVeer, has also ruled himself out of involvement with Taylor Wimpey. A spokesperson from Avant Homes said his “sole focus” was on Avant.

The news follows an intervention by Elliott Advisors last week when the firm published an open letter to the Taylor Wimpey board calling for the appointment of an external chief executive and a refresh of the non-executive board. This was needed in order to address “persistent underperformance” at the business in recent years.

It also said it wanted more housebuilder experience at board level in the firm.

It is not clear how much leverage Elliott Advisers has to bring about the changes it wants. Housing Today understands that Elliott holds its stake in Taylor Wimpey via contracts for difference, which is why its holdings do not appear on the publicly available shareholder register.

It is clear from the register, however, that being a top-five shareholder in the firm, as Elliott claims, could be achieved by holding as little as 2.8% of the company.

Taylor Wimpey TW MAN Half Penny Meadows, Clitheroe_PT43_Langdale_PA48_Shelford_PA411_Whitford_PA34_Gosfordx2(1)

A Taylor Wimpey development in Clitheroe

The open letter included the results of a shareholder survey that Elliott had undertaken, which it said showed shareholders believed the firm had the greatest potential of all the major listed housebuilders to benefit from a change in management. It said 88% of shareholders surveyed picked Taylor Wimpey as likely to benefit most, compared to Barratt, Bellway and Persimmon.

Building understands that there has so far been no meeting between Elliott Advisors and senior Taylor Wimpey executives.

The investor is currently prosecuting a campaign to get utility giant SSE to divest part of its business, and has been trying to force a shake-up of senior executives at pharmaceutical giant GSK.

A spokesperson for Avant said: “[Jeff Fairburn] remains wholly committed to developing Avant into one of the UK’s leading housebuilders.

“He is not involved with, nor considering, any involvement in any other business whether in an executive or non-executive capacity.”

Following Elliott Advisers’ intervention on Friday, a Taylor Wimpey spokesperson said the firm had delivered record interim profits and increased guidance for the full year in August, having undertaken “a successful and well-timed £500 million equity raise” in 2020.

The spokesperson added: “The company is set for another year of growth in 2022 and, given the equity raise, will deliver accelerated growth from 2023.”