Glass maker beefs up its board

PILKINGTON is expected this week to announce the appointment of three heavyweight businessmen as non-executive directors to its board, according to City sources.

The appointments - of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell's Bill Harrison, Laporte chief executive James Leng, and Barclays finance director Oliver Stocken - will give a much needed boost to the glass maker, whose shares have underperformed the market by nearly 30 per cent over the past year.

The trio will join Pilkington's chairman, Nigel Rudd, and chief executive, Paolo Scaroni, in their year-long effort to restructure the company, whose ties on Merseyside date back to the industrial revolution.

Pilkington, based in St Helens, remains the world's largest glass maker. But in June it reported a pre-tax loss of pounds 100m for the year ended March 31 as a result of the restructuring programme launched by Mr Scaroni last year.

The programme calls for a major consolidation of the company's business units in the 19 countries where it operates. Pilkington plans to close, sell, or merge 70 of its scattered businesses by the end of the year, reduce its workforce by 7,500 by March 1999, and in the words of its chief executive transform itself "into one company from a quasi-investment trust controlling many glass businesses around the world."

But the turnaround plan has failed to catch the imagination of investors. At the end of last month, Pilkington's market capitalisation of pounds 850m was 25 per cent below a month earlier - in part because of its businesses in stricken emerging market countries.

The company is hoping the arrival of its three new executive directors will reverse sagging investor sentiment. Mr Harrison is known throughout the City as the former BZW chief executive who moved to Deutsche Morgan Grenfell after Barclays decided to withdraw from trading in shares.

Mr Leng made headlines in August when he was appointed chief executive of specialty chemicals producer Laporte after stepping down from the number one post at packaging company Low & Bonar.

Mr Stocken, Barclays' highly regarded group finance director, and a non- executive director of property group MEPC, was named a non-executive director of the Rank Group in August.