Fears over Psion chief

Speculation grows that founder may reduce role

City speculation is growing that founder David Potter may relinquish his executive responsibilities at Psion, the world's leading maker of hand-held computers and one of Britain's most spectacular corporate successes of the last decade.

Mr Potter, 53, is currently recuperating at his London home after an emergency heart bypass operation in mid-December.

This weekend a Psion spokesman said no date had yet been put on his return and declined to deny that Mr Potter, currently chairman and chief executive, may take a non-executive role.

"That's very premature and isn't at all relevant to the running of Psion," the spokesman said.

"David Potter is seen very much as the front man, but all decisions are taken by consensus by the board of seven."

Nonetheless, a back-seat role would concern investors as the firm develops its next phase of palmtop computer and communications products.

Mr Potter, a feisty South African, is synonymous with Psion's phenomenal rise in an industry dominated by overseas giants. Armed with a physics doctorate, he founded Psion in 1980 and launched the world's first hand- held computer four years later.

The huge success of Psion's Organiser II, an icon for executives, paved the way for the firm's 1988 flotation. The shares have jumped more than tenfold since to value the group at pounds 320m and Mr Potter's own stake at pounds 85m.

Psion might now have been worth double that had bid talks with Alan Sugar's Amstrad not fallen through last July.

In September, Mr Potter also dispensed with long-time finance director Mike Langley, a move seen as part of the stresses of transformation to a much larger company.

His illness came as a surprise, after he was detained for an emergency operation following a routine medical check.

"The trouble is that it was all so sudden," one source close to the company said. "It's too early to say whether they should get a new chief executive. But once he has recuperated, he might be told to take it easy or decide to do it himself."

In his absence, day-to-day operations are being run by Nicholas Myers, Psion's technical director, who led development of the Organiser II and successful System 3a palmtops.

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