Reckitt Benckiser boss stuns City as he quits for US role

Reckitt Benckiser boss Laxman Narasimhan stuns City as he quits for US role after just three years at helm of Dettol maker

Reckitt Benckiser’s boss has become the latest to join the exodus of FTSE chief executives after he quit yesterday.

Laxman Narasimhan, who has led the consumer goods giant for just three years, stunned the City by announcing he was leaving the UK to take up a post in the US.

Analysts said it was a ‘surprise’ to see the 55-year-old businessman go so soon, when it seemed that his strategy at the Dettol owner was beginning to pay off, and shares fell 5.2 per cent.

Going west: Reckitt Benckiser boss Laxman Narasimhan, who has led the consumer goods giant for just three years, is leaving the UK to take up a post in the US

For Narasimhan, the decision to move across the Atlantic will mean reuniting with his family.

The Indian-American executive was formerly based in the US at PepsiCo, before coming to the UK in 2019 to take over at Reckitt.

But this left him isolated from most of his family during the pandemic. During Covid he became the sole carer for his elderly mother, with whom he shared his rented flat in St John’s Wood, north-west London.

The situation left him juggling important Zoom calls during lockdowns with answering the door to deliveries of shopping.

While his wife was eventually able to join him in London, he was unable to see his daughter – who works in New York – for the entirety of the pandemic.

Now his son is also due to start university in the States.

Narasimhan said: ‘I have been offered an opportunity to return to the United States and although it is difficult to leave, it is the right decision for me and my family.’

He declined to comment on the job he was taking up, but it is understood he will hold the position of chief executive at a large US company operating in a different sector to Reckitt.

Narasimhan restructured the Slough-based group, selling under-performing businesses such as its Chinese infant nutrition arm. He has also wrestled with supply chain challenges since the start of Covid-19.

Addressing Narasimhan’s departure, Bruno Monteyne, an analyst at investment bank Bernstein, said: ‘We are surprised to see him go, given the extent to which investors and the company have come to the conclusion that the new team’s strategy is paying off.’

Tineke Frikkee, fund manager at Waverton Investment Management, which has a small holding in Reckitt, added: ‘Whilst it is understandable that for family reasons he is moving back to the US, it is surprising that it is immediate, rather than serving his notice period.’

Narasimhan’s tenure at the Durex-to-Nurofen business was well below the FTSE 100 average of 5.8 years. 

But there has been a spike in departures this year and his exit is the 17th announced by the boss of a blue-chip company so far this year.

Prudential’s Mike Wells, Taylor Wimpey’s Pete Redfern and JD Sports’ Peter Cowgill have already been replaced. And Rolls-Royce, Whitbread and B&M have all announced plans to bring in new chief executives next year.

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said that spikes in chief executive changes often come when times are getting tough – the years 2000, 2007 and 2020 all saw a flurry of moves.