Whatman ousts chief executive after missing targets for growth

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The Independent Online

The laboratory equipment company Whatman has axed its chief executive after the firm missed successive sales growth targets last year.

Shares slipped 5 per cent yesterday after Whatman issued a profits warning and announced that Bill Emhiser is to be replaced by Kieran Murphy, the former chief executive of Innovata, with immediate effect.

Whatman, which specialises in supplying separations technology for the life sciences industry, said a delay in expected orders meant that revenue growth for 2006 was likely to be around 5 per cent instead of the previous forecasts of 6 to 7 per cent.

However, analysts said that overall the news was positive for the company.

Sebastien Jantet, an analyst at Investec, which has a hold rating on the stock, said the company has recognised that its problems have been internal rather than external.

"External factors are harder to predict and more difficult to fix," he said.

This is the company's fifth chief executive in four years. Mr Emhiser only took up the position in November 2005.

However, much is expected of Mr Murphy, 43, who is a respected figure in the City. The fortunes of the biotech company Innovata were transformed under his leadership. Its share price more than doubled and it recently merged with its rival Vectura. "Mr Murphy ticks all the boxes," Mr Jantet said.

Chairman Bob Thian said the company was currently underperforming and had missed successive sales growth targets in 2006.

"Although the board is conscious of the number of senior management changes at Whatman in recent years, it is determined to put in place a management team that can deliver sales and profit growth," he said.

Mr Murphy would bring " real momentum to Whatman and reinvigorate its growth", he added.

The company has also resolved its litigation involving its subsidiary Biometra, which supplies products involved in DNA testing. This means it can come out of administration and an earlier provision of £9m is no longer needed.