Liberty marks new era with changes in the boardroom

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The Independent Online
LIBERTY, the retail group whose entire board was ousted in a shareholder coup last year, attempted to draw a line under its recent problems yesterday when it announced a new boardroom structure and confirmed that it has shelved plans to spend pounds 40m on re-developing its flagship store in Regent Street, central London.

Michele Jobling, a former marketing manager of the Tampax brand, has been appointed as managing director. Brian Muirhead, previously finance director at Whichford, a motor dealership, is the new finance director.

Liberty also named two new non-executive directors. They are David Malpas, the former deputy chairman of Tesco, and Victor Benjamin, chairman of Lex Service and also a former Tesco director.

Philip Bowman, the new chairman, said: "What we have done is draw a line under all the events of the past year. It is an end of one chapter and we are now looking into the future."

In spite of a profits warning last month, Mr Bowman said he saw the group remaining independent and added that he had received no approaches.

He said initial costs and professional fees relating to the plans of the previous management to re-develop the store would result in an exceptional charge of pounds 8m-pounds 10m in the company's current year accounts. This will cause a delay in the company's results which were due in late April."

Mr Bowman said the re-development would only have increased the value of the site by pounds 13m-pounds 15m. He admitted the store required investment but would not be drawn on the figure.

The company plans to look at how best to utilise its property assets which, in addition to the Regent Street store, includes a wholesale building and 15 shops in Fouberts Place. It is possible these could be sold to raise funds for investment.

Mr Bowman gave few details on the group's new strategy but said the Liberty brand could be developed in countries in the Middle East and Latin America.

Liberty was at the centre of a bitter battle last year when the founding Stewart-Liberty family ousted the existing management led by Denis Cassidy.

Liberty is being sued by two former directors, Ian Thompson and Andrew Garety, for compensation for loss of office. There has been no settlement with Mr Cassidy though this is not the subject of legal proceedings.

Societe Generale has been named as Liberty's financial adviser and may also act as the group's broker.

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