Outlook: Fresh faces for a transformed business

A lot has changed at ICI since Ronnie Hampel arrived as a fresh- faced commercial trainee 42 years ago. For a start, most of its traditional UK customer base has disappeared. For another it has discovered that bulk chemicals is a mug's game for all but the world's biggest players and those with supplies of cheap raw materials and labour.

Through all this ICI has managed a surprising clever evolution, first by shifting its production and marketing effort abroad, then by growing a high-margin pharmaceuticals business. When it realised that pharmaceuticals is an entirely separate industry, it bravely demerged. Then, last year, ICI did the splits for a second time, selling off industrial chemicals and concentrating on the less lumpy, less cyclical businesses of paint and speciality chemicals.

Now it is about to change again but this time it will be management, not businesses going through the revolving door. The promotion of Charles Miller Smith to chairman next year, only three years after arriving from Unilever, and the recruitment of an heir apparent as chief executive in the shape of Brendan O'Neill from Guinness means that ICI will be run by a pair of outsiders for the first time since its foundation in 1926.

Although ICI's traditional strengths lie in science and technology, its future belongs as much to those who know how to market products, like Messrs Miller Smith and O'Neill. The fact that an incumbent is not being groomed for the top slots speaks volumes. Those who are passed over for the top job at ICI rarely hang around. Bill Duncan and Bob Haslam went off to run Rolls-Royce and Tate & Lyle respectively after Sir John Harvey Jones pipped them to the chairman's job, and Robin Ibbs soon left for Lloyds Bank after coming second to Denys Henderson. Sir Ronnie may find the exodus has already started when he hangs up the chairman's job next April.

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