Ronald steps down after Uniq goes back to basics

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The Independent Online

Uniq, the food company which makes ready meals for supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer, has parted company with its chief executive after scrapping plans to build a pan-European business.

Uniq, the food company which makes ready meals for supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer, has parted company with its chief executive after scrapping plans to build a pan-European business.

The company said Bill Ronald was leaving by "mutual agreement" after a strategic review of the company concluded the business was not being run effectively.

Nigel Stapleton, the chairman, said: "Successful execution of the new strategy requires a different set of leadership skills than Bill has. The board is confident Uniq's businesses can deliver greater value if the division management teams are more focused. We are sorry to be parting company with Bill."

Mr Ronald earned £335,000 in basic salary last year, but received a pension contribution worth about £117,000. This would put him in line for a pay-off worth about £450,000. A spokesman for the company said his compensation package was being negotiated.

Mr Ronald had spearheaded an attempt to integrate the French, German, Benelux and UK businesses of Uniq into a single operating unit with joint marketing and advertising across different countries. But a statement from Uniq yesterday said: "The group's priority should be to focus on the growth and profitability of its three core divisions rather than seeking to further integrate these businesses, given their different characteristics and the slow rate at which these major markets are converging."

Mr Stapleton now plans to manage its divisions as free-standing businesses. This, Uniq believes, will devolve decision making to the heads of each division, making them able to respond to market changes faster.

Mr Stapleton, who will act as executive chairman until a replacement for Mr Ronald is found, hopes the restructuring will achieve "significant" savings in overhead costs. This will mean a number of job cuts across the group, so that the company can save as much as £20m a year by 2008. Uniq will take a £38m charge as a result of the restructuring.

Uniq is suffering tough competition in the UK as supermarkets use their buying power to squeeze down prices. The group said it was considering acquisitions to boost its market share.

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