Bottom Line: Not fun any more

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The Independent Online
BRIAN McGOWAN's decision to step down as chief executive of Williams Holdings by the end of the year marks the end of an era, not only for the acquisitive industrial conglomerate but also for the stock market, where demerger has become the name of the game.

Retiring at the tender age of 48 may have always been in Mr McGowan's game plan. But he does not hide the fact that for him the fun has gone out of being in business.

Throughout the 1980s Mr McGowan and his alter ego, Nigel Rudd, the chairman, who founded the company with him, made one of the market's sharper double

acts.

Mr McGowan was the intellectual driving force behind the selection of corporate morsels to feed the ever- hungry Williams maw.

Mr Rudd, along with the new chief executive, Roger Carr, was the muscular force that masticated the titbits as they arrived.

Together they turned an engineering business with sales of less than pounds 5m into a monstrous consumer products, fire protection, building materials and electronic goods manufacturer with sales of more than pounds 1bn last year.

But the last couple of years have seen Williams mature into a staid, defensive version of its former hungry self and its rating has suffered accordingly. The failure to acquire Chubb from Racal was a watershed.

Yesterday's 10p fall in Williams's share price to 320p was an acknowledgement that the clock cannot be turned back.

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