British luxury car maker Aston Martin is putting a contemporary face on its company ahead of an initial public offering planned for October. On Monday, the company appointed Penny Hughes to the position of chair — a symbolic act in a slow-to-evolve industry historically dominated by men.
Hughes arrives at Aston Martin with an impressive résumé. Formerly head of Coca-Cola’s UK and Ireland operations, the new chair also served on the boards of Royal Bank of Scotland and telecom giant Vodafone. As it prepares to make 25 percent of its shares public, the increasingly high-profile automaker wants an infusion of fresh blood while remaining tied by the firmest of bonds to its storied history.
The company’s heritage speaks for itself, and Aston often allows it to do just that. There hasn’t been this much official DB5 imagery put forth by the automaker since the original graced showrooms.
A long time coming, the IPO is seen as a litmus test for the patriotism of British investors, as well as the the strength of their nerves. Brexit is still a go, after all, though Aston claims its export-heavy operation insulates it from much of the potential fallout. At least a quarter of the automaker’s shares will hit the London Stock Exchange in about a month’s time, with employees and owners invited to buy shares at the initial offer price.
Currently, Kuwaiti and Italian investment firms hold a majority stake in the private company. In order to offer the IPO, Aston first had to return to profitability, which it did last year for the first time since 2010. The brand sold 5,117 cars last year, a significant increase from 2016.
“Private shareholders have displayed successful long-term stewardship to date and are fully committed, as am I, to transitioning the group, the board and its governance arrangements to those expected of a world-class public company operating from the UK,” said Hughes in a statement.
CEO Andy Palmer called Hughes’ appointment “a significant milestone in our history and of the successful turnaround of the company.”
Cynics might claim the high-profile appointment amounts to an equally cynical PR move on the eve of the company’s IPO, given that its executive ranks remain stacked with fair-skinned, well-dressed men. The only female member of Aston’s top brass is Nikki Rimmington, director of corporate finance and planning, who joined the automaker in 2007. Maybe those cynics are right; we aren’t privy to closed-door discussions.
Still, few would question Hughes’ impressive credentials, and to those balk at the idea of gender quotas, surely there’s reason to celebrate the hiring of someone on the basis of merit.
[Image: Aston Martin]