Alison Brittain, new Whitbread CEO
Alison Brittain will start as Whitbread's CEO in January 2016Whitbread

Whitbread, the hospitality company that owns Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, has appointed Alison Brittain as its chief executive. When she leaves her role as director of retail banking at Lloyds, she will become the sixth female CEO of a FTSE 100-listed company.

Brittain is a former executive director for retail distribution at Santander. She has also taken on senior roles such as director of Barclays and Woolwich Retail Networks and managing director of Barclays Small Business Banking during her 20 years at the "Big Four" bank.

She joins Veronique Laury, CEO of B&Q owner Kingfisher, Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco, Liv Garfield of Severn Trent, Carolyn McCall of easyJet and Moya Greene at Royal Mail in the select group of female CEOs.

As is usually the case with female executives, Brittain has often been asked about her life as a woman in the City, especially with regard to motherhood. "I have a male colleague with kids exactly the same age as mine and no one asks whether he can balance," she told Thisismoney in December 2014.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2012, she said: "I did a decade in commercial banking [at Barclays]," she says. "There were no women. If you were a woman you stood out. You do have to find a way of being noticed and being heard."

In 2014, Brittain was appointed non-executive director at Marks and Spencer, despite the retailer's partnership with Lloyds rival HSBC.

Her position at Whitbread marks the end of her streak at big banks, while her departure from Lloyds will certainly be a blow for her soon-to-be former employer.

But Wyn Ellis, an analyst at investment researcher Numis, was one of a number of industry insiders to reveal their bewilderment at her appointment. "I'm a bit surprised. She doesn't seem to have had any sort of quoted company CEO experience before, it is a little bit left field," he told Reuters.

However, Whitbread chairman Richard Baker said Brittain was the perfect fit. In the announcement of her appointment, he said: "Alison has vast experience in successfully managing multi-site operations with leading brands. She has a natural ability to inspire and motivate large customer-facing teams to deliver great service."