Outlook: De La Rue man gets in at the bottom

AFTER A six-month search, De La Rue has finally found itself a new chief executive, Ian Much - the old one, Jeremy Marshall, having been thrown overboard for persistently disappointing stock market expectations. Ian who? The City was plainly less than overwhelmed by the appointment yesterday, but actually, he may be the man for the job.

While Sir Colin Hope took the plaudits and the glory for disentangling T&N from its appaling history in the asbestos industry, Mr Much was the man who got on and ran its rump engineering business, and a pretty good job he made of it too by all accounts, with T&N eventually being taken over by the Americans for a very good price.

De La Rue's caretaker chief executive, Brandon Gough, who now resumes his old position as non-executive chairman, reckons De La Rue has now got its strategy about right by concentrating on the three connected businesses of banknotes, note counting machines, and bank swipe and smart cards. The only problem is that despite heavy investment in all three, they are still failing to produce the results.

It is hoped that Mr Much, with his reputation for strong operational management, can deliver them.

He faces quite a challenge. Shares in De La Rue, once a FTSE100 stock, have been in more-or-less persistent decline since the bottom fell out of the banknote market in the mid 1990s. There's very little sign of that market reviving.

Smart cards represent a good punt on the future, but it's going to be a highly competitive business and it's not certain De La Rue can translate its present strong position in swipe cards into the new age.

All the same, Mr Much is joining at the bottom and that's always a good opportunity for a chief executive in a hurry. Wait to see details of his incentive package to assess the potential upside. Mr Much will ensure the get-rich targets are set low enough to be realistically achieveable.

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