Biffa chief executive Ian Wakelin has said there will be a smooth transition – with ‘no shocks’ – as he prepares to pass on his role to chief finance officer, Michael Topham.
The assurance came today after the waste management company, alongside its annual results, announced that Mr Wakelin, who became Biffa CEO in August 2010 is to step down and be succeeded by Michael Topham.
As yet no departure date for Mr Wakelin has been announced pending the implementation of the succession plan at Biffa and the appointment of a new chief financial officer. Consistent with that plan, said a statement from the Biffa board, both men will remain in their current posts for the time being.
Mr Topham joined Biffa in September 2010 when it acquired Greenstar UK where he was finance director and which was run by Ian Wakelin. At Biffa, Mr Topham held the roles of divisional managing director and divisional finance director before being appointed to his current role in 2013.
Ken Lever, chairman of Biffa, said: “On behalf of everyone at the company, I would like to say thank you to Ian for everything that he has done for the business and to wish him and his family well for the future.
“Ian can feel extremely proud of what he has achieved at Biffa. He will be leaving a business in good health, the result of the growth strategy which he and his colleagues have been implementing for the last eight years.”
And, the chairman added: “We are delighted that Michael will be Ian’s successor. Michael has played a major role in the development of the Group and the evolution and implementation of its strategy since he joined the business in 2010. Moreover, he played a central role in, and has become widely regarded since, the Group’s IPO. We believe the business will continue to be in excellent hands when Ian hands over the reins to Michael.”
Speaking to letsrecycle.com today Michael Topham outlined Biffa’s annual results which were posted today and expressed his delight at being appointed as the company’s next CEO.
And, Ian Wakelin pointed to the development of Biffa and outlined his decision to step down.
In terms of growth at Biffa in the past year, this had been roughly half through acquisitions and half through organic growth, said Mr Topham. Also helping was lower financing costs and the cash levels of the group which have put it in a “good position”.
He noted that “I&C has been the engine of growth for the last year. We are the leader, the largest player in the market with a great brand and great service and a national presence. We compete very effectively against local competition.”
Mr Topham went on to explain that whereas 15 years ago there was a relatively low barrier to entry in the I&C sector, simply needing “to provide bins and take material to landfill”, the market today was much more complex with a demand for a wide range of recycling and waste services. “Now multiple services have to be provided at multiple points. It is a more demanding environment, real time information is needed, we have to work with emissions regulations, and are working in complex city environments.”
One notable feature during the 12 months to April 2018 was an increase in demand at Biffa’s landfills, which, said Mr Topham, “was probably at the upper end of what we expected at about 3 million tonnes. Two million tonnes can’t be recycled or recovered for energy with about one million that can probably go for energy recovery or recycling.”
Referencing the Biffa research project The Reality Gap (see letsrecycle.com story )and despite the recent increase in landfilling, Mr Topham said: “I think it is wrong to say that landfill will grow forever. We expect volumes overall to reduce with more recycling and energy from waste.”
Energy from Waste
At present Biffa has no energy from waste plants of its own. But, it is set to develop two with Covanta of the US as a partner. These are to be at Newhurst, Shepshed near Leicester and at the Protos site, east of Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.
Mr Topham said development of the plants will be staggered and Biffa is talking to EPC contractors and lenders at present. “We are pleased with the progress so far.” The plants are to be merchant facilities and underpinned by Biffa’s balance sheet.
“We have got the waste and we have the balance sheet,” declared Mr Topham. “We expect financial close by Christmas 2018 on one and the next in 2019 with a three-year build. We would hope to have one operational in 2021-2022.”
And, he signalled that material for energy recovery is unlikely to come from within established Biffa’s refuse derived fuel (RDF) export stream as the company is likely to maintain its RDF export contracts which are well-established with operators on the Continent.
On the municipal front, Mr Topham said that the company “will not bid at any cost” for work. “If a local authority comes out with a seven year contract and requires the contractor to bear all the risk, we are not going to bid. Now though they understand that, so they are separating that risk out.” And, while Biffa has won few new contracts in recent months from local authorities, there are a number of “sizeable tenders” ahead, he added.
On markets, Mr Topham said with reference to waste paper that it is “comforting to see that the situation is stabilising and there has been a modest improvement in price. A positive is that through that period we have still managed to continue to sell the material.”
Ian Wakelin, who is likely to leave the business by this autumn, said the decision to move on was “quite sad in many ways. I have been in this sector for 25 years and it is amazing how time creeps up on you… I am in my mid-fifties now.
“My bucket list of things I would like to do keeps getting longer!”
“I had nine tough years at Greenstar and eight years at Biffa have also been tough and as much as I love this industry, my bucket list of things I would like to do keeps getting longer!”
And Mr Wakelin emphasised that like all good businesses, Biffa had a succession plan in place and there would be “no surprises and no shocks”.
Referring to his successor, he said: “Michael and I have worked together for 13 years and we have developed a good strategy for Biffa which will continue to be hugely successful.”
Mr Topham said how pleased he was to being appointed: “I am absolutely thrilled and very honoured to be taking on the role at a company which is the biggest name in the industry. It is a name I always admired and there will be a smooth transition and it will be business as usual.”
And he added that he had been working closely with Ian Wakelin for the last five years.
- Biffa also announced today the appointment of Carol Chesney as a non-executive director with effect from 12 July 2018. Ms Chesney will also assume the role of chair of the Audit Committee. Since 1998, she has been company secretary of Halma plc.