Eagers Automotive CEO Martin Ward resigns

Eagers Automotive CEO Martin Ward resigns

After 16 years as CEO of Eagers Automotive (ASX: APE), Martin Ward will resign from his position and take up a new role as advisor to the board and newly appointed CEO Keith Thornton.

Thornton will take up the top role at the car retailer effective immediately, after having worked with Eagers for 18 years, including as COO since 2017.

In his new role, Ward will have responsibility for Eagers' $470 million portfolio of owned properties, its leased real estate, and strategic investments such as the Brisbane Airport Auto Mall development.

Ward will also continue to play a role in advising the board and providing counsel to Thornton, ensuring a smooth handover, while retaining a major shareholding.

Eagers chairman Tim Crommelin says the succession plan protects the interests of shareholders and supports the continued trajectory of the business over the long term.

"In Keith we have appointed a proven leader with an unrivalled understanding of the business, its strategy and a clear vision for the future," says Crommelin.

"Under Martin's exemplary leadership, he has built Eagers Automotive into a true powerhouse of automotive retail.

"He leaves the CEO role with our business in a formidable position and with a highly experienced leadership team."

Eagers profitable after market slump

Eagers Automotive has reported a profit after tax of $156.2 million in the first half, up from a loss of $139.6 million in 1H FY19.

The result marks a rebound from historical low sales of cars in early-2020 resulting from COVID-19 restrictions that were in place nationwide.

Since then, Eagers says customer orders have continued on a strong trajectory, and supply constraints caused by manufacturer closures and reduced production capacities have started to ease demonstrated by growth in national vehicle deliveries in November and December 2020.

The company's half was impacted by non-cash impairments worth $90.7 million associated Holden's exit from the Australian market and downward property revaluations in South Australia and Queensland.

Commenting on the first half results, capping off the first full year for the company since its merger with Automotive Holdings Group, outgoing CEO Ward says Eagers' strategy is working.

"Despite the extremely challenging conditions caused by COVID-19, the group rebounded from historic trading lows in April and May to deliver a strong full year performance supported by the resurgence in new car sales and the effectiveness of our omni-channel strategy in pre-owned vehicles in the second half," says Ward.

"Despite the COVID-19 disruptions during the period, we made substantial progress on a number of key strategic initiatives including further simplification of our business through divestments and unlocking value in our property portfolio.

"Eagers Automotive maintains a strong balance sheet and has the scale, geographic diversity and right team in place to withstand further challenges and accelerate our Next 100 strategy to extend our leadership position in automotive retail."

The company's board has decided to reinstate its payment of dividends to shareholders and will pay a final dividend of 25 cents per share.

Shares in APE are down 7.45 per cent to $12.30 per share at 10.46am AEDT.

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