SSL chief leaves 'by mutual consent' after three years of turmoil at Durex maker

Brian Buchan, the chief executive of SSL International, paid the price for failing to sell off its medical division yesterday as the board of the company that makes Durex condoms and Scholl footwear announced his resignation.

Brian Buchan, the chief executive of SSL International, paid the price for failing to sell off its medical division yesterday as the board of the company that makes Durex condoms and Scholl footwear announced his resignation.

He is to leave the company next week by "mutual agreement" and will get a year's salary as a pay-off. In 2003 he was paid £440,000 as annual salary.

Ian Martin, SSL chairman, said Mr Buchan had made a "selfless contribution" to the company through an "extremely difficult" period. "He will leave SSL in a far better position than when he joined it and we wish him well in the future."

Mr Buchan joined SSL three years ago but soon found the company was at the centre of a Serious Fraud Office investigation. Five former directors were charged in November after a two-year investigation into corruption of the company accounts.

It is believed that the board had become frustrated the lack of progress in the group's disposal programme. Talks to sell its surgical gloves and antiseptic scrubs business to 3i, the private equity group, dragged on for months before collapsing earlier this month. The company had promised the sale would be wrapped up by December, and recently warned that the proceeds from the sale may be lower than had been expected. Talks have resumed with another potential buyer.

Mr Buchan's exit is the second sudden departure of a top executive from the company recently. Steve Eastwood, the managing director of its Asia Pacific business, resigned earlier this month to "spend more time with his family."

Mr Buchan will be replaced by Garry Watts, SSL's finance director and managing director of its European operations, who has been running the largest part of the business, as its European operations generate 75 per cent of group turnover.

Mr Watts was key to the discovery of the alleged fraud at SSL when he joined as its finance director in February 2001. The company is now looking for a new finance director.

Since the discovery of the alleged fraud, SSL has been trying to get rid of its medical brands to become a consumer healthcare group.

Once the non-core medical businesses have been sold, SSL is likely to become a bid target. There has been speculation that Reckitt Benkiser is stalking SSL. The company has already raised about £75m from selling two businesses, its bandages division and its industrial gloves unit.

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