Thames Water announced late on Friday afternoon that Steve Robertson had stepped down as chief executive with immediate effect.
Chair, Ian Marchant, will serve as interim executive chair until a successor for Robertson (pictured) is found.
No reason was given for the unexpected departure, which reportedly followed a board meeting held that afternoon. Reports variously linked Robertson’s departure to Thames’ ongoing leakage struggles and the poor grade Ofwat gave Thames’ PR19 business plan.
One source speculated to THE WATER REPORT that the departure may signal that the board is shying away from a head-on clash with Ofwat over the size of Thames’ 2020-25 investment programme.
Robertson has passionately championed the need for transformational investment of £11bn, with compares with Ofwat’s view that £9.4bn would be efficient. Marchant, however, said: “We remain fully committed to our proposed business plan focused on providing industry-leading customer service through a substantial investment programme which we are determined to deliver.”
The chief executive’s exit will further strain an already depleted senior management team. Previous recent departures include chief operating officer Lawrence Gosden who resigned in March; strategy and regulation director Nick Fincham in January; and strategic planning and investment director (now MOSL chief executive) Sarah McMath before Christmas.
Marchant spent 21 years at energy firm SSE, as finance director then chief executive, and joined the Thames board in December 2017.
Robertson said he was proud of what Thames had achieved under his two and half year tenure since September 16. The company said under Robertson, it had increased its focus on customer satisfaction, improved incident response capabilities, expanded support for vulnerable families and invested more than £2 billion in the network to improve overall performance.
The outgoing chief noted: “Of course challenges remain, but Thames is now on stronger footing and well positioned to deliver for its customers in the years to come.”