Punch Taverns chief operating officer Neil Griffiths is a “strong candidate” for the role of chief executive, and the group would look at candidates with retail skills from inside and outside the pub sector, executive chairman Stephen Billingham has told M&C Report.

The company is set to begin looking for a new CEO “very shortly”, said Billingham, following Punch’s restructure that’s expected next month - the process now requires approval from just the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank after Punch’s bondholders and shareholder voted in favour this week.

Billingham told M&C Report: “My game plan has always been to revert to being a non-executive chairman and we’re going out there very shortly to see what the market looks like for a chief executive.

“That doesn’t exclude us from looking at internal candidates as well.”

Griffiths had earlier been linked to the chief executive role and asked if he is a candidate, Billingham said: “Yes he is. If he wants to be a candidate he’s a strong candidate.”

Billingham added: “It really needs to be somebody who is in retail, who is familiar with the consumer facing aspects of the job. We wont just look in the pub sector - I’m absolutely certain we won’t just do that - we’ll look outside that. But it will be consumer-based and in retail industries - that’s very important.”

He said he was “open minded” about candidates’ specific industries but said experience of franchising would be beneficial.

Billingham said he’d be looking for “evolution rather than revolution” under the new CEO.

“The business is, trading wise, in particularly good shape, so we’d give somebody a good platform. But we also want to make sure we make the right choice. We don’t want to bring in somebody who’s going to try and reinvent what we do.”

A new chief executive is likely to be in place some time next year.

Billingham said he expected it to be “business as usual” after the restructure. “We will carry on doing the same things. We will carry on investing in the 3,000 core pubs, we will carrying on selling the non-core pubs. There will not be a dramatic change of tact for Punch.”

He highlighted the importance of training Punch’s licensees, pointing out that c1,600 had been trained in the past year. “That’s where I think the future lies. The future lies in us adding more value to our partners.”

Asked if he’s confident that the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank - which provide liquidity and hedging facilities to the two Punch securitisations - would approve the restructure, Billingham said: “I certainly hope so.

“The biggest hurdles we’ve got through were the bondholder and share holder votes. All of those have gone though with very high percentages in favour.”

Voter turnout among shareholders was 90%, with 99% voting in favour, he pointed out.

“It shows the solution we’ve got is one that’s acceptable to all parties,” Billingham added.