GEC close to naming Weinstock's successor

RUSSELL HOTTEN

Speculation was growing last night that defence electronics group General Electric Company was on the verge of finalising a job package to be offered to Lord Weinstock's successor.

Sources said yesterday that a GEC board meeting on Monday would approve the terms of an appointment, but there was no news about whether George Simpson, the frontrunner for the managing director's post, had been formally offered the job.

Lucas, where Mr Simpson has been chief executive for almost a year, publishes its results on Tuesday and company insiders said there were no plans to make an announcement about his future.

Rumours about Mr Simpson's possible departure continue to unsettle the company, and one manager said yesterday: "The feeling around here is that it is not a matter of if he goes, but when."

GEC, which holds quarterly board meetings, has said it would make an announcement in the spring, and that Lord Weinstock would move aside probably by the end of the year.

One manager within the GEC empire, ruled by Lord Weinstock for 33 years, said yesterday: "We are all looking to Monday for some news; or at least some announcement soon afterwards."

He believed that Mr Simpson's appointment was not as certain as some commentators believed, and that Peter Gershon, who runs GEC-Marconi, was still a serious contender.

"Mr Simpson is a car industry man through and through and there are still those who believe he will find the transition to a company like GEC hard despite his experience with British Aerospace," he said.

Mr Simpson's contract expires in April 1997 and the shareholders' annual meeting was told last year that he would see it out. But there has been talk that GEC was negotiating to buy-out the remainder of his contract.

The situation is also complicated by whether Lord Weinstock, 71, intends to stay on at the company in some honorary position, which would inevitably raise questions about his influence over a new chief executive.

Mr Simpson joined the automotive and aerospace engineering group from BAe, where he was deputy chief executive and head of the Rover Cars unit, sold Germany's BMW at the start of 1994.

A Lucas spokesman said: "George Simpson has a contract with Lucas, he is here and we are getting on with running a successful business."

Rumours about his impending move to GEC are said to have leaked out after a senior GEC executive had dinner with two analysts, and the rumours have circulated in the City ever since.

One former colleague told the Independent yesterday: "Sometimes I believe these rumours are reheated every few weeks to spark a reaction from GEC. I believe George is an honourable man, and if he had said he is not going, then he will not go."

Nor was he sure that Mr Simpson was right for GEC. "Someone in that job has to be a person who can stomp the corridors of power and operate at the inter-governmental level. I wonder whether George is the man to do that."

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