Lord Hanson hands over reins of 'different animal' to Collins

Lord Hanson is to be succeeded later this year by Christopher Collins at the head of the Hanson building materials group which now represents all that is left of the once-feared corporate predator's sprawling conglomerate.

Mr Collins, who is married to Lord Hanson's niece, will be only the second chairman the group has had since James Hanson set in train an unprecedented acquisition spree after taking over the Wiles Group in 1965.

But "New Hanson" is a very different animal to Lord Hanson's creation, a fact underlined yesterday by Mr Collins, who said he was "totally committed to the New Hanson strategy, which is to concentrate on building materials and not to revert to the old acquisition-led strategy."

The group recently disposed of its electrical division and Mr Collins said the only purchases they would be seeking would be "disciplined, bolt- on acquisitions" in its areas of aggregates, bricks and cranes.

The City, however, remained unimpressed. The shares, which have underperformed the rest of the stock market by over 50 per cent since the beginning of 1994, fell 6.5p to 322.5p yesterday.

Analysts said the management of Hanson continues to suffer from the legacy of the old conglomerate. One said: "There is a general view that there are too many accountants, tax specialists and financiers on the main board, rather than operational people, which has held back the rating."

Mr Collins, whose appointment was foreshadowed at the time of last year's four-way demerger of the original Hanson group, rebutted such suggestions.

He said Andrew Dougal, chief executive, and Alan Murray, finance director, had spent a "significant amount of time running the operations. Mr Dougal is a former managing director of the ARC UK aggregates business, while Mr Murray was heavily involved in the integration of Hanson Brick.

News of the appointment came alongside half-year figures from Hanson showing pre-tax profits slumping from pounds 766m to pounds 263m in the six months to March.

There will be no interim dividend announcement until later in the year because of the decision to move the year end to December.

The figures were distorted by the inclusion last time of Millennium Chemicals and Imperial Tobacco, demerged in October, and a five month contribution from The Energy Group, which was spun off in February. In fact, underlying profits from continuing operations rose from pounds 66.3m to pounds 69.6m.

Lord Hanson, who is to assume the honorary title of chairman emeritus when he retires at the end of the year, said there were signs of improvement in the UK housing and construction markets and the prospects for the US businesses were good. "Hanson is in excellent shape to build value for shareholders", he claimed.