The former Network Rail chief Sir John Armitt is preparing to vacate the driving seat at National Express, one of Britain’s biggest listed transport groups.
Sky News has learnt that the company has instructed headhunters to identify a long-term successor to Sir John, who has chaired the group since February 2013.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: “There are no plans for Sir John Armitt to step down as chairman before his term ends in 2022.”
External candidates as well as existing board members will be considered by National Express for the role.
The company recently reported a strong performance in the three months to September across its UK bus and coach operations, and its businesses in North America, Spain and Morocco.
Sir John’s predecessor, John Devaney, had been forced to contend with a more difficult set of circumstances including an activist campaign led by the hedge fund Elliott Advisers, and a takeover bid involving CVC Capital Partners and Spain’s Cosmen family.
Whoever succeeds Sir John will have to recruit a replacement for Dean Finch, who has been credited with driving National Express’s improved performance since becoming its chief executive in 2010, unless the latter elects to step down first.
One of the most difficult periods of the duo’s tenure came in 2016, when one of National Express’s US bus services was involved in a crash in which six children died.
The company faced severe criticism from investors the following year for awarding Mr Finch a £1m annual bonus.
Sir John is a veteran of the British transport and infrastructure sectors, with his biggest jobs having included chairing the Olympic Delivery Authority ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.
He remains on the board of Berkeley Group, the housebuilder.
On Monday, shares in National Express closed just over 2% higher at 473p, having risen by about 17% over the last year.
The company now has a market value of £2.37bn.