Imperial chief joins RJR Nabisco battle

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The Independent Online
The executive chairman of Imperial Tobacco, Ronald Fulford, stepped down yesterday to join the growing shareholder rebellion against RJR Nabisco in the United States.

Mr Fulford's appointment to head an alternative slate of directors to replace the current RJR Nabisco board is the latest twist in the increasingly succesful campaign to force the company to spin off its Nabisco foods business to shareholders.

The campaign is being spearheaded by veteran corporate raiders Bennett LeBow and Carl Icahn. On Tuesday, Mr LeBow declared victory in a shareholders' poll to endorse his resolution supporting the immediate spin-off of the food division. He claimed that two thirds of those who replied to his solicitation backed the spin-off, including top institutional investors.

A proxy fight to replace the RJR Nabisco board with his own directors is the next phase in Mr LeBow's battle, which he is waging jointly with Mr Icahn. Mr Fulford, 61, who has been credited with turning around the fortunes of Imperial Tobacco, a Hanson subsidiary, in nine years at the company, would serve as the chief executive of RJR's tobacco business after the spin-off.

Confirming Mr Fulford's role, Mr LeBow said yesterday: "He is a premier tobacco manager; the premier manager, I think, in the world".

RJR Nabisco told analysts yesterday that it intends completing a Nabisco spin-off but probably not before next year. The company believes that concerns about litigation against the tobacco industry argue against an immediate split.

The dissident shareholders believe, by contrast, that the shadow of litigation over the tobacco unit is depressing the share value of the whole group and that that is why a spin-off of the food division is urgent. Mr LeBow argues that the spin-off could increase the value of shareholder investments in the group by as much as 50 per cent.

"It is now or never. What are they waiting for?" Mr LeBow said yesterday.