Northern Foods' chief executive exits

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The Independent Online

Northern Foods is parting company with its chief executive Pat O'Driscoll after a turbulent three years at the helm during which the food manufacturer has halved in size and issued a string of profit warnings.

Ms O'Driscoll insisted that leaving had been her decision but will still collect up to a year's salary - £470,000 - in compensation for stepping down. She is handing over to Stefan Barden, the former UK boss of Heinz, who she recruited a year ago to run Northern's chilled meals division, which he has turned round.

Tony Hobson, the chairman, called the handover a "very cheap, very elegant" solution to the issue of succession. Ms O'Driscoll had approached the board with her resignation after the completion last month of the sale of 40 per cent of Northern's businesses, he said.

Ms O'Driscoll said: "We mutually agreed it was time to make a change in leadership. I completed what I came in to do. Northern is a simpler, more focused, more resilient business."

The former Shell executive has had to rip up her plans more than once during her tenure. Her original goal of growing the business to sales of £2bn with profits of £200m within two years proved to be impossible. She will leave a company forecast to make pre-tax profits of barely £50m in the year to March 2008 on sales of £900m.

The City welcomed her departure. Shares in Northern rose 1.5p to 124.75p. "She over-promised on what she could deliver and irritated key customers such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco. She also mishandled the restructuring programme," one food analyst said.

Mr Hobson said Mr Barden would have "no need, no desire and no plan" to alter the company's strategy when he takes over on Monday.