Cookson chief to stand down after profits comeback

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The Independent Online

Stephen Howard, the chief executive who guided the industrial materials group Cookson back to profitability after three years of heavy losses, is to leave the firm before the end of the year.

Mr Howard, 51, joined Cookson 18 years ago as a general counsel for its US division, becoming a director in 1992 and then chief executive seven years ago.

He said: "My 18 years at Cookson, including 12 on the board and seven as chief executive, have been enormously fulfilling, but the time has simply come to do something else. The company is now in excellent competitive shape and the long-awaited recovery is clearly under way, making this year the appropriate time to pass the baton on."

Mr Howard, a law graduate from the University of Michigan, said he expected to stay within the business and in Britain. He holds UK and US citizenship.

Cookson said the search for a successor would begin in earnest, adding that Mr Howard would leave no later than 31 December.

The company's chairman, Bob Beeston, said: "After three years of very difficult trading conditions, Cookson is now firmly on the recovery path, is in a sound financial position and is therefore very well positioned to prosper under his successor."

Analysts were cautiously positive about Mr Howard's departure, noting that while it was good to see he guided the company towards recovery, it was worth remembering he also made many of the decisions which left Cookson exposed in 2000. One analyst said: "In the eyes of the market, a fresher line-up at Cookson is probably going to be a plus, but obviously it very much depends on what sort of person is brought into replace him."

Last month, Cookson reported a first quarter pre-tax profit of £1m, reversing losses of £18m reported in the same quarter last year. It is now on course to turn its first annual profit since 2000.

Shares in Cookson, which produces electronic, ceramic and precious metal components, closed up 0.25p at 46p yesterday, giving the company a market value of £868m.