Watkin Jones finance chief replaced months after new boss joins

Watkin Jones has replaced its chief financial officer (CFO) with a finance executive from the property sector.

Sarah Sergeant is stepping down after two and a half years in the role, the firm announced today, and will be replaced by Simon Jones, formerly CFO at Watford-based property firm Mapeley Estates Limited.

He will take up his new post in May and go through a “managed succession” process with Sergeant, Watkin Jones said.

The firm’s chair Alan Giddins said Jones was “a very experienced CFO with significant property related experience, which is highly relevant as Watkin Jones continues its recovery and broadens its focus on opportunities within the residential for rent sector”.

Jones joined Mapeley in 2013 following a career that included director-level positions at companies such as hotel firm Whitbread.

At Mapeley, he focused specifically on performance improvement and growth. However, the firm went into voluntary liquidation in August 2023.

The change at the top at Watkin Jones follows the appointment of Alex Pease as chief executive on a permanent basis in November.

He had held the reins since the departure of former boss Richard Simpson in July, following an announcement that the group was facing up to £45m of exceptional costs.

The firm recorded £35m of building safety remediation costs in its most recent annual accounts, plus a £3.1m charge against an internal restructure.

In its latest trading update for the six months ended 31 March, also released today, Watkin Jones said the provision for building safety “remained unchanged”.

The housebuilder-contractor also reported a net cash position of £44m on 31 March 2024, compared to £45m the year before.

Watkin Jones flagged “significant uncertainty” around building safety provisions and said it would continue to monitor the space as it continues in discussions with building owners, and investigations into building continue.

But the firm noted strong tenant demand and rental growth in the built-to-rent and student accommodation sectors, which it said is driving its performance.

“Alongside this we are seeing the wider real estate investment market and appetite for forward funds continuing to recover gradually, off a low base,” it added.

It also expects its performance to improve in the second half of the year, when most of the forward sales are expected to take place.

In January, Pease said Watkin Jones’ performance in the student accommodation and build-to-rent sectors “gives me confidence in the longer-term market recovery and return to growth”.

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