Leaving Courtaulds in better shape

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The Independent Online
When chief executives leave their posts early - without another job to go to and a stack of out of the money options - the reasons presented through official lines rarely bear a great deal of scrutiny. The old baloney about wanting to spend time on other interests or their families is simply code for poor old Smithers not being up to the job.

On the face of it the justification for Sipko Huismans' early exit from Courtaulds raises the usual eyebrows - it looks just a little too neat and well-rehearsed to hold much water. It wouldn't be fair, the line goes, for the new chairman, Sir David Lees, to have to work out a modus vivendi with abrasive old Huismans - only to lose him after 18 months and have to start all over again with his replacement.

But this time the cynics may be looking too hard for a story. If any FT-SE 100 chief executive could say in all seriousness, "it's a bit early but I'm only 55 and I'll see what turns up", Sipko Huismans is he. This is a man whose desk faces out of the window because he "likes to see the sky and the grass". There is no point, he has always maintained, in having a bit of money if you don't spend it - in his case on a yacht and a couple of houses.And if he believes that, with his mentor Sir Christopher Hogg moving on, he might find it hard to get on with the new man Sir David Lees, he is probably right. Sir David, patrician, diplomatic, financial, is the antithesis of Sipko, the roly-poly rebel with a passionate belief in Britain's future in Europe and monetry union. Who can blame him for thinking that sort of courtship too much like hard work.

In some ways he leaves a company in better shape than he found it, better focused and with a bright star in the new wonder fibre Tencel. But the new team has a job to do. Since the textiles arm was spun off in 1990, Courtaulds shares have underperformed the rest of the market by a fifth. More worrying, they have lagged boring old ICI by 10 per cent.