Ashley chief leaves in top-level revamp

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JAMES WHITE, chairman of Ashley Group, is to leave the troubled window blinds maker in a board shake-up triggered by pressure from institutional shareholders.

Hamish Grossart, chairman of EFT, Quality Care Homes and Scottish Highland Hotels, will take over early next month.

Mr White, former chairman of Bunzl and a non-executive director at Lucas Industries, acquired Ashley from a shell company in 1988 and built it into a blinds, retailing and timber group.

But large shareholders - which include Standard Life, Prudential, Chase Manhattan and PDFM - were unhappy with the large losses sustained after an ill-timed move into Spanish supermarkets.

Ashley returned to profit in the first half of last year, making pounds 1.6m before tax, after selling the Spanish company Digsa for pounds 53m. But it was forced into legal action to recover pounds 20m of the payment that was deferred and has not been paid.

It is thought that the new chairman, who was appointed at a board meeting at the end of last week, will make a provision against non- receipt of the payment when Ashley's annual results are announced in March.

Mr Grossart, who is a nephew of Angus Grossart, chairman of the Scottish merchant bank Noble Grossart, said he wanted to get his feet under the table before revealing a new strategy for the group. 'But I expect to focus the business on the window blinds company, which has been a solid performer,' he said.

To that end, Bill McDonald and Robert McNeil, who run Eclipse, the blinds subsidiary, have been appointed managing director and deputy chairman respectively. Two non-executive directors, Tony Orton and Peter Maydon, will leave the board with Mr White.

Mr Grossart said he could not comment on Mr White's compensation for loss of office. It is understood he was paid pounds 40,000 last year, although the annual report and accounts have not been published yet. He was paid pounds 110,000 the previous year and is believed to have a one- year contract.