CAPE TOWN - British American Tobacco (BAT) chief executive Nicandro Durante retired from April 1 2019 after working for the group for 37 years, the group said yesterday. Durante, who had spent eight years as chief executive, first announced his intention to retire to the BAT board in September last year.

Succeeding Durante is BAT’s former chief operating officer of its international business, Jack Bowles, who was made chief executive designate from November 1, 2018, and who joined the board on January 1, 2019.

At the time that Durante announced his retirement, BAT chairperson Richard Burrows said: “Nicandro has been an outstanding chief executive. He was the architect of the current strategy to transform the business and, with the successful establishment of BAT’s potentially reduced risk products business and the acquisition of Reynolds American Inc, he has created a stronger, truly global tobacco and nicotine business.”

Nicandro had delivered consistent strong growth in earnings and dividends during his tenure, said Burrows.

Durante had stayed on an additional six months to ensure an “orderly handover to my successor.”

His departure comes at a time when the group's share price on the JSE has slipped more than a quarter from a 12-month high of R799.55 to R576.48 at the close of the JSE yesterday, and when the group is facing increasing regulatory pressure in the US for lower nicotine content and a ban on menthol cigarettes. BAT, nevertheless, reported a strong financial performance across all regions in the year to December 31, 2018, with adjusted diluted earnings per share increasing 11.8percent to 296.7pence (R55.23), off the back of a 25percent increase in revenue.

The dividend was only raised by 4percent, due to a forecast of “high single figure adjusted constant currency earnings growth” for 2019, directors said in the results.

BAT directors said yesterday that Durante would not receive any payment for loss of office or any other payments in relation to the cessation of his employment.