United Kingdom

He's back! Ex-Persimmon boss Fairburn moves in on Avant Homes

Jeff Fairburn's plans to create 'one of the UK's leading housebuilders' has set tongues wagging in the industry.

The former Persimmon chief executive left the company controversially three years ago following a fierce backlash over an £82million bonus.

But his comeback began last year through the buyout of small private housebuilder Berkeley DeVeer.

Comeback: Former Persimmon chief exec Jeff Fairburn left the company controversially three years ago following a fierce backlash over an £82m bonus

Fairburn this week upped the ante with his takeover of bigger rival Avant Homes.

The deal, which saw him team up with feared Wall Street investor Elliott Management, is the strongest sign yet that Fairburn still harbours major ambitions despite already having made a fortune.

The 54-year-old will become Yorkshire-based Avant's chairman, with both he and Elliott taking undisclosed stakes. 

And though the scorned executive remained tight-lipped about his plans, refusing interview requests, he has reportedly been on a land-buying spree across the north east to provide a pipeline of development sites.

One housing industry source said: 'There's clearly some unfinished business there. I would imagine he's quite bitter about what happened at Persimmon and probably wants to prove a point.'

Fairburn is a seasoned industry insider, starting at Persimmon in 1989 as a quantity surveyor for its Yorkshire business.

He rose through the ranks, becoming managing director for the north east in 2000, division chief executive in 2006, group managing director in 2012 and group chief executive in 2013.

Under his leadership, Persimmon became a stock market darling with booming profits, surging share price and big dividend payouts. In 2018 it reported a record profit of £1billion.

Industry sources put the success down to ruthless cost controls, which one source said were the envy of rivals.

However, a flip side to this success soon emerged, as customers complained about shoddy building practices – highlighted by the Mail – and Persimmon's rating in an industry survey tumbled from five to three stars. 

The mood turned against Fairburn as it emerged he would collect one of the biggest bonuses in corporate history – potentially worth £110million.

It prompted outrage, with critics saying the obscene sum was a classic example of corporate excess. Fairburn gave up part of his payout and Nicholas Wrigley, Persimmon's chairman at the time, resigned, saying he regretted not capping the bonuses.

But the controversy refused to fade, with Fairburn's fate seemingly sealed after he flounced out of a television interview when asked about the large bonuses.

Roger Devlin, the William Hill veteran who was brought in as chairman, asked Fairburn to leave.

An independent review found that under Fairburn the company's culture had led to shoddy workmanship and 'potentially unsafe' homes being built that exposed customers to 'intolerable' fire risks. 

'But he seems unbowed. He said he hoped to make Avant 'one of the UK's leading housebuilders'.

An industry insider said: 'I don't think anyone expected Jeff to just go away and never come back. He's still a relatively young man and obviously wants another bite of the cherry.'

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