Pawnbroker Albemarle turns to Stevenson as new boss

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A former Marks & Spencer director is set to take over at Albemarle & Bond, after the pawnbroker's chief executive replaced chairman Charles Nicolson, who is stepping down because of ill health.

Barry Stevenson will become the new chief executive next month, succeeding Greville Nicholls, who held the role for 14 years. He replaces Mr Nicolson, who had been chairman since 1995, with immediate effect.

Albemarle said yesterday that Mr Nicholls had "overseen the company's successful expansion strategy since its introduction to AIM. The board believes that given the specialist nature of the business Mr Nicholls' appointment as chairman will ensure continuity and a smooth transition."

Mr Stevenson was most recently chief executive of Wyevale Garden Centres. He joined in June 2006 in the wake of its £310m takeover by the retail entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter. He surprised the market when he left in January 2008. The control of Wyevale has since shifted to Sir Tom's lending banks and Nicholas Marshall, the chief executive since November, has set about taking out the brand name in an attempt to return the group to its roots.

Before joining Wyevale, Mr Stevenson was the retail director and on the executive committee of Marks & Spencer. Previously he had been a managing director at B&Q and a director of Woolworths.

Mr Stevenson, who is a director of The Safe and Secure, said: "The business has outstanding potential to benefit from positive market conditions and deliver further growth."

Mr Nicholls added: "Barry has a proven history of creating shareholder value with a strong record of implementation, delivering against demanding targets, and leading successful teams in a highly competitive and customer focused environment."

Albemarle, which was launched in 1983, has grown from 14 stores to 115 under Mr Nicholls' stewardship. It has seen business rocket during the recession as customers denied bank loans have turned to hawking their jewellery, an average loan is £120.

In May, the rise in gold prices saw the group lift its profit forecast to about £14m for the year. The downturn has seen the number of its customers who can't afford to buy back their items rise to 20 per cent. Albemarle can then sell the goods on. The company added that retail sales were up as customers looked to pawn shops to buy cheaper jewellery.