Levene is front runner for Weinstock job

RUSSELL HOTTEN

and JOHN WILCOCK

Sir Peter Levene, outgoing chief executive of the Canary Wharf development, has emerged as the front runner to succeed Lord Weinstock at GEC.

The defence electronics giant has said it expects to make a decision in the spring in readiness for Lord Weinstock to stand down as managing director in the summer.

Sir Peter, a former head of defence procurement, is one of several executives to have had talks with Lord Pryor, the GEC chairman who heads a sub-committee set up to choose a successor.

GEC shares rose this week on speculation that a replacement had been found. Sir Peter's imminent departure from Canary Wharf was being seen as ideal timing for an announcement early in the New Year.

He surprised the City this week when he said that he is to leave Canary Wharf shortly, following its takeover by a syndicate of international investors led by Paul Reichmann. Sir Peter said that he had been asked by Mr Reichmann to stay on but had decided that his job at Canary Wharf was done.

Sir Peter said on Thursday that he has yet to make up his mind about his future. He will definitely continue to act as an efficiency adviser to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. As a Sherriff of the City of London he is also a possible candidate for Lord Mayor of London in several years' time. He refused to comment on any other possible job offers he may have received. Sources who know Sir Peter are not surprised however at the speculation surrounding the GEC job.

George Simpson, chief executive of Lucas Industries, was last year tipped as Lord Weinstock's first choice. But Mr Simpson was seen to have ruled himself out when he told Lucas's annual meeting in November that he intended to stay at least until his contract expired in March 1997.

Bob Quarta, chief executive of BBA, and Sir David Lees, chairman of GKN, have also been linked with the job, though the latter executive is highly unlikely to join.

The only serious internal candidate is Peter Gershon, the successful head of GEC-Marconi. However, the City wants GEC to bring in new blood from outside the group to replace Lord Weinstock, who has ruled GEC with a iron grip for 25 years.

GEC's earnings barely changed since 1990, and some key investors want an outside manager to unlock shareholder value through demergers or break- ups, and better use of the company's pounds 2.5m cash pile.

However, Lord Weinstock, who may stay on as non-executive chairman when Lord Pryor goes, is unlikely to appoint a radical who may undo the work he has achieved over the decades.

This is why one analyst said yesterday that Sir Peter would be a good choice."He has got the business background, and also experience in the corridors of power at the Ministry of Defence. But he is no radical."

Observers of Sir Peter's two year stint at Canary Wharf, during which the Docklands development has been turned from being a half empty white elephant to an 80 per cent-let success story, see his main strength as sales and marketing.

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