New man at Grand Met

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The Independent Online
SHARES in Grand Metropolitan fell 13p to 445p yesterday after the drinks and food group poached one of industry's most colourful finance directors from Redland, the UK's largest building materials company.

Gerald Corbett, who at 42 will be the youngest board member at Grand Met by a margin of 11 years, spent six years as finance director at Redland, following spells at Dixons and the Boston Consulting Group.

Highly regarded in the City, Mr Corbett was described yesterday as personable, bright and quick to get to grips with a new industry. He replaces David Nash who becomes chairman and chief executive of Grand Met's food sector.

However, dealers said that the movement in Grand Met's share price reflected worries about what one analyst described as Mr Corbett's 'cute' tax planning skills.

In recent years he has surprised analysts with his ability to maintain a lower-than-normal tax charge at Redland despite a looming ACT problem due to the imbalance between the company's overseas and UK earnings. City eyebrows were also raised in September when shareholders were offered a scrip alternative to the normal cash dividend for the second time in six months.

Despite saving cash in the short term, it was felt that issuing more shares merely postponed the company's tax problems. Redland had already enlarged its shareholder base in 1991 with the all-paper acquisition of its rival, Steetley.

Mr Corbett is known to be extremely ambitious so his departure from Redland came as no surprise. His route to the top of that company was in effect blocked by Robert Napier, chief executive since 1991 and only four years older than his finance director. Redland's shares closed 6p lower at 577p.

Earlier this month Grand Met announced a sharp fall in pre-tax profits from pounds 913m to pounds 630m after heavy restructuring costs. In September Redland announced a 22 per cent jump in pre-tax profits to pounds 108m, although earnings per share fell 5 per cent.

Shanks & McEwan, the waste management group, also drafted in a new finance director yesterday. David Downes joins Shanks & McEwan from Hunter Saphir, where he was finance director and deputy chief executive.

(Photograph omitted)

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