* Carnwath one of only seven chairwomen at FTSE 100 companies
* Helped to steer Land Securities through the financial crisis
* Company faces fresh challenges ahead of Brexit (Adds detail, background)
By Esha Vaish
March 2 (Reuters) - Alison Carnwath, one of a handful of women at the helm of a FTSE 100 company board, is retiring after nine years as chairwoman at Land Securities, Britain’s largest listed commercial property developer.
The company, which developed London’s famed “Walkie Talkie” skyscraper and also manages the Bluewater shopping centre in southeast England, said the search for Carnwath’s successor was under way.
Carnwath, a well-known business personality and recipient of a damehood in 2014, has served on the boards of British bank Barclays and hedge fund manager Man Group.
Among her other roles, Carnwath is currently audit committee chairwoman at chemicals company BASF and a non-executive director at Zurich Insurance.
Carnwath’s tenure as chairwoman of Land Securities began in November 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, which had prompted a sharp fall in real estate values and caused many real estate lenders to shut shop and left some large developers struggling to stay afloat.
Land Securities, like others, has since undergone a multi-year overhaul to cut debt by selling non-core projects to strengthen the quality of its balance sheet and is today watched widely for its calls on the state of the market.
When few others were ready to take the risk, Land Securities restarted speculative construction in Britain in 2010, accurately predicting that the country would face a shortage of premium office space.
In 2015 the company made the decision to stop adding to its building programme without securing tenant commitments, with largest rival British Land following suit a year later.
Carnwath’s departure comes as British developers face new challenges from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, which has raised alarms over a potential exodus of financial jobs and an economic slowdown hurting rental demand.
Land Securities said on Friday that Carnwath would continue in her role until a successor is found.
The company’s website touts Carnwath as an executive with the ability to “create the optimal board environment and get the best out of board members both during and outside meetings”.
Only seven women chair the boards of FTSE 100 companies, the most recent addition being Virgin Money’s appointment last month of former HSBC executive Irene Dorner.
Theresa May, only the second female British prime minister, has criticised British companies for failing to promote and retain women. Britain has a voluntary target for FTSE 350 companies to have women fill a third of director roles by 2020. (Reporting by Esha Vaish in Bengaluru Editing by David Goodman)