Attallah loses battle at Asprey

Naim Attallah, the ebullient boss of Asprey, lost his battle against City critics and yesterday announced his resignation as chief executive. He will leave in December next year when he turns 65. No successor has been named.

"I am looking forward to spending more time with my artistic interests which include publishing and a novel released later this month," the Palestinian entrepeneur said.

The news came as the jeweller to the world's wealthy announced store closures and the appointment of a new non-executive director.

A close friend of John Asprey, majority shareholder of Asprey, Mr Attallah is recognised for his charm and marketing skills, which he used to build up the jewellery business and lead an expansion into the Far East and Eastern Europe.

His remuneration - which,including pension contribution, was more than £520,000 in 1994 - has helped fund many artistic ventures, including the Literary Review and Quartet Books.

Yesterday the company announced the appointment of Howard Dyer, chairman of Hamleys and Ascot Holdings (formerly Control Securities) as non-executive director.

Dealers attributed the rise in Asprey shares yesterday by 5p to 83p to Mr Dyer's reputation as tough negotiator with a good relationship with the banks.

Asprey also announced the closure of seven shops, including one of the five Les Ambassadeurs stores bought two years ago.

Some analysts regarded the closure as evidence of a strategy to spread the group's revenue stream away from the core Bond Street shop by diversifying into high street chains.

Most analysts felt that it was evidence the company was winding up recent acquisition -activity.

"We applaud signs that they are getting to grips with troublesome subsidiaries," said one shareholder.

Stockholders, who have seen shares collapse from a high of 331p in May 1994 to 83p, voiced concern that the changes did not go far enough.

Last year it was disclosed that the loss of a few big-spending customers would seriously depress profits.

Since then rumours have swept the market that the company has received reduced orders from the sultans of Brunei and Oman, two customers whose appetite for jewellery helped the main Asprey store in London's Bond Street provide a substantial proportion of group profits.

The company, which has £149m of stock on its balance sheet, has since launched a group-wide reconstruction programme.

"The company is approaching its considerable problems in a most diffident manner,"one institutional shareholder said.

"Waiting 18 months for the appointment of a new face after hearing the old face no longer fits is not very encouraging.

"We want someone with City credibility who can put the worst type of rumours that have beset the share price to bed."

The boardroom change will not take place until December 1996. Mr Attallah will head the search for his replacement.