Founder returns after Advanced Technology coup

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The Independent Online

Peter Hibbitt has returned as chairman of the company he founded, Advanced Technology, after ousting his successors in a dispute about the failure to nail down a much-delayed major contract.

Mr Hibbitt, a 26 per cent shareholder who retired in December, declared "irreconcilable differences" with Mike Killingley, the chairman, and Peter Robertson, the managing director, who both quit yesterday. Mr Hibbitt's immediate successor as chairman, Gregory Reece-Smith, stepped down in April. The company announced yesterday that John Howell, the operations director, will be its new managing director.

The company, floated on the Alternative Investment Market at the beginning of last year at 250p, has seen its shares collapse after failing to bring in a multimillion-pound contract it has been talking about since that listing. Its stock closed up 3.5p yesterday, to 46p.

Mr Hibbitt said: "I am delighted to be back with the team at Advanced Technology and, given my long-standing customer connections, I feel confident that I can make a positive impact on the future potential of the company."

Advanced has developed equipment to read utility meters at homes and businesses remotely, using radio transmission. It has yet to sign a significant customer for the device, the potential market for which forms the investment case for the company.

An industry source said: "They've been playing musical chairs. It doesn't matter a jot who's at the helm. It just needs the contract."

When Mr Hibbitt was first chairman, Advanced started talks with a potential partner in South East Asia about supplying the metering technology to a major utility in the region. The deal has still not closed. Mr Hibbitt is thought to believe that he has a better relationship with this company than his successors.

More important thanthe size of this potential deal, on offer is a chance to prove the group's technology in a working environment. "There is no cash crunch at the company, but without this contract it would have to downsize and try and put its technology to other uses," the industry source said.

Mr Hibbitt took the company he founded in the 1980s from the unregulated Ofex market to AIM. He then acquired a rival group called Ramar and started talks over the South East Asia contract. He then bought a yacht and left his company to professional managers.

The group has also had problems with the Ramar acquisition. At its most recent results, Advanced said: "We have suffered significantly reduced margins in this [Ramar] business, primarily because of difficulties with our sub-contract manufacturing and logistics processes."