Smokin’ hot – Imperial Tobacco’s new chief

As the tobacco industry begins to boom once again, CEO Gareth Davis is
stepping down at Imperial Tobacco and leaving the role to his former chief
operations officer Alison Cooper. With her strong finance background,
ICAEW-qualified Cooper has taken a more unusual path to the top, defying the
typical FD-to-CEO strategy. But how has she done it?

What’s happened?
Cooper has been with the group since 1999 and has held a range of senior roles
including director of finance and planning before moving out of finance,
becoming regional director western Europe and corporate development director.

Her background as COO will have broadened her knowledge of the tobacco
industry and given her great strategic insight into the workings of the market.
And even in her previous role at PwC she was heavily involved with mergers and
acquisitions for the tobacco giant ­ a key strategy for Imperial Tobacco going

With her widely reported love of cigars, Cooper seems like a logical choice.
She took on the role of COO in March 2009, responsible for sales and marketing,
manufacturing, the cigar business and corporate development. The role included
strategic planning, business development and corporate affairs ­ she was also
responsible for the integration of Altadis.

The success of the company has not been stubbed out by the smoking ban. On
the contrary, the “staycation” culture of the recession has meant that more
people are buying their cigarettes in the UK than duty free ­ the company’s
full-year pre-tax profits climbed 52% to £945m, and the investors continue to be
happy, with a 2% rise in shares.

What happens next?
As a successful 2009 comes to a close, Cooper will be looking to use her
expertise in M&A to expand the company further. The latest Credit Suisse’s
analyst report shows that emerging markets account for 20% of the industry, so
no doubt Imperial will be looking to grab their slice.

This will be particularly important in Africa (for long-term growth) and the
Middle East (where competitors hold the majority of the market share), say the
analysts. The USA is also looking like a positive growth area ­ despite
short-term volume uncertainty, Imperial will be well-positioned to grab share
from small operators facing rising regulatory costs in the future.

The world will watch as she joins only four other female CEOs of Britain’s
top 100 companies. Her every move will be under scrutiny.

Her new pay package (Davis was paid £3.9m last year) should prevent Cooper’s
passion for the business from burning out, and failing this, Davis will be
alongside her for the next six months to keep her on the straight and narrow. So
put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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