North West chief 'slow to delegate': Sudden departure explained as water company lifts profits

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The Independent Online
NORTH WEST WATER, the privatised utility, yesterday expanded on the reasons for the abrupt departure of its chief executive, Bob Thian, last month, as it announced interim results.

Bob Ferguson, finance director, said Mr Thian's management style had become increasingly inappropriate as the business had grown. 'He was a pioneer, and what he did to build up the business over four years should not be underestimated.

'But he centralised control too much. Once we had established the businesses on the non-core side, it was important to let people get on and manage them.'

North West is now drawing up specifications for a new chief executive. The group also announced yesterday that Sir Peter Middleton, chairman of BZW and former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, is to join as a non-executive director.

A lower contribution from non-regulated businesses held back profits growth. The group made pounds 138.2m before tax in the six months to the end of September, a rise of 5.7 per cent.

The core water business saw operating profits jump 15.7 per cent to pounds 168.3m, but the contribution from non-regulated activities dropped from pounds 7m to pounds 3m. The company blamed tougher trading conditions, particularly in the United States, in its process engineering division.

Mr Ferguson said he expected the division's results to be better in the second half, although the year as a whole would not be as good as last time. 'The positive thing is that we have a higher order level than at the same point last year - pounds 70m against pounds 55m.'

He said the company's goal was to have 10 per cent of earnings coming from the non-regulated side in five years' time.

North West also announced yesterday that it had signed an agreement for the privatisation of Malaysia's waste water system. North West is the biggest shareholder in a consortium to upgrade and operate the country's sewerage system. The project will involve investment of pounds 1.5bn over 25 years and is expected to bring revenue of more than pounds 6bn.

The interim dividend rises 7.6 per cent to 7.67p on earnings per share of 39.3p (34p). The shares fell 17p to 567p.