Hillsdown finance chief quits after clash: Lack of personal chemistry at top prompts departure
Mr Moffat, who joined Hillsdown from Kwik Save, the discount food retailer, last June, is the second finance director to leave the group in less than two years. His predecessor, Kevin O'Sullivan, left for Greencore, the Irish food manufacturer, in March 1991.
The latest departure follows sweeping management changes at Hillsdown since the beginning of the year. A new management team - Sir John Nott, the former defence secretary, as chairman, and David Newton as chief executive - has been brought in under institutional pressure to reverse the group's profits slide and cash outflow.
But Mr Moffat and the new team could not get on with each other. At the annual shareholders' meeting yesterday, Sir John Nott said Mr Moffat's appointment 'had not worked out as envisaged by either side.'
He is being replaced by Ray Mackie, who joined the board in January but has been with the company since its early days when it was founded by Sir Harry Solomon, who also stepped down as joint chairman at yesterday's meeting.
Mr Newton said that Mr Moffat's departure had been prompted by a lack of personal chemistry between the three directors. 'Perhaps Hillsdown was not the right company for Mr Moffat and he wasn't right for us. These things sometimes happen when a new team comes in', he said.
It is still unclear whether Mr Moffat will receive any compensation for loss of office. Although he had a service contract, the company refused to give details as the two sides are still in discussions.
However, City analysts expressed some concern at disruption caused by the move. Sally Jones, food analyst with Panmure Gordon, said: 'Although this will have little effect on the company, it does not inspire a huge amount of confidence. Mr Moffat's appointment seemed a bit strange at the time it was made as he did not have sufficient experience of industry, which Hillsdown had said it was looking for.'
But the group's shares rose 1p in a falling market to close at 157p.
News of Mr Moffat's departure was accompanied by an encouraging trading statement. 'The year has started reasonably well. Trading is up to our expectations and in line with our budgets. It is much too early to make any firm predictions for the year, but I am confident in the propects of the group as a whole,' Sir John said.
Last month the company reported a fall in taxable profits from pounds 187m to pounds 154m for the year to 31 December, on sales of pounds 4.4bn. Earnings per share slumped from 21p to 13.6p.
The company was also hit by a pounds 163m net cash outflow, which pushed up debts from pounds 160m to pounds 313.5m last year. However, the market is looking for a recovery in taxable profits to about pounds 163m this year, rising to pounds 175m in the following year.
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