FirstGroup shares up 20% in month amid big changes

Shares of Aberdeen-based bus and rail giant FirstGroup plc have soared about 20% in the past month amid big changes on the firm’s board and news that major shareholder Coast Capital Management LP raised its stake in FirstGroup from 7.6% to 8.8%.

FirstGroup shares have risen from around 95p to about 115p in the past month as analysts rethink prospects for the firm under new CEO Matthew Gregory and chairman Wolfhart Hauser.

FirstGroup has long been under pressure from some shareholders to break itself up, and US private equity firm Apollo Global Management said last May it dropped plans to make a takeover bid for FirstGroup after having two approaches turned down.

Last July, FirstGroup said it was “examining all appropriate means to mobilise the considerable value inherent in the group.”

Last week, FirstGroup said it appointed Ryan Mangold as chief financial officer (CFO) with effect from May 31. Mangold was group finance director of homebuilder Taylor Wimpey plc for eight years until April 2018.

Mangold’s annual salary will be £450,000 and the company’s contribution to his pension will be 15%.

And former General Motors (GM) executive Julia Steyn has been appointed as an independent non-executive director of FirstGroup with effect from May 2.

Steyn served as vice president, Urban Mobility and Maven at General Motors until earlier this year.

Prior to this, Steyn was vice president and co-managing director for Alcoa’s corporate development group, having previously worked in London, Moscow and New York for Goldman Sachs and A.T. Kearney.

Meanwhile, FirstGroup’s senior independent director Drummond Hall will step down from the board on May 31, 2019. He will be succeeded by David Robbie, who continues to chair the audit committee.

CEO Matthew Gregory said: “I am delighted that Ryan will be joining FirstGroup as CFO.

“Ryan is a business transformation leader who brings a wealth of experience from other sectors and a strong track record of executing complex corporate changes to enhance shareholder value.

“I am confident Ryan will make a major contribution as we continue to drive forward our plans to unlock greater value from our portfolio of market-leading businesses.”

Mangold said: “This is an exciting time to be joining FirstGroup.

“The group’s marketplaces are experiencing a period of significant change and uncertainty, with opportunities for sustainable growth and good financial returns available to those businesses that are well placed to meet customers’ evolving needs.

“I look forward to working with Matthew and the team to make this a reality for FirstGroup’s customers, shareholders and other stakeholders.”

Chairman Wolfhart Hauser said: “I am delighted to welcome both Ryan Mangold and Julia Steyn to the board of FirstGroup.

“Ryan’s background and skills are an excellent fit for the role of FirstGroup CFO, while Julia’s corporate development expertise and experience at the forefront of the emerging Mobility as a Service sector will be of immense value to the group as our services continue to evolve to provide greater ease and convenience for our customers.”