Ashley hires new finance chief

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The Independent Online
Laura Ashley, the troubled retailer which recently parted company with its high-profile chief executive, Ann Iverson, yesterday appointed a new finance director. The fashion and home furnishings group has also renegotiated its banking facilities after breaching its banking covenants earlier this year.

Richard Pennycook will join Laura Ashley in mid-March from JD Wetherspoon, the pub company where he has been finance director for two years. Mr Pennycook, who is just 33, previously spent five years at Allders, the department store group. where he worked in finance functions in Europe and North America.

Mr Pennycook will succeed Jim Walsh, an American who was closely associated with the departed chief executive. He will leave in March with a year's pay-off of pounds 300,000.

Following criticism of high levels of remuneration at Laura Ashley which stemmed from Ms Iverson's pounds 1m-a-year package, Mr Pennycook will be paid a basic salary of pounds 160,000 with no bonus in the first year. A generous share option package is expected, though some tranches are thought to be priced at "several times" the current share price, which closed at 36p, down 2.5p, yesterday.

Commenting on his appointment, Mr Pennycook said: "The call came out of the blue. But after discussions I decided it was an exciting challenge that takes me back to retailing with an international slant, which is my background."

Separately, Laura Ashley announced yesterday that its banking syndicate has agreed to extend borrowing facilities to the group until April 1999. The company breached its initial pounds 50m facilities earlier this year. Its new facilities extend to pounds 70m including uncommitted lines of credit.