People & Business

Michael Hale is stepping down as chairman and chief executive of GBE International, the Andover based manufacturer of equipment for the tobacco industry, after having completed his role as "company doctor" to the troubled group.

Mr Hale took the axe to costs and raised pounds 6m in new capital last summer, getting rid of the loss-making packaging and environmental purification businesses. He is making way for Graham Walker, the new executive chairman, who is best known as the former deputy chairman of Argyll Group. Mr Walker owns 3.9 million GBE shares representing 4.3 per cent of the issued share capital.

Michael Jenkins joins GBE as chief executive, having come from Delta Group, and Roger Spry, a long-term employee at Phillip Morris, competes the team as executive director for the development of GBE's tobacco business. Mike Forder, GBE's financial director, survives the reshuffle, and the company is expected to make around pounds 2.5m profits this year.

Is Simon Preston, chairman of the small but distinguished City PR company Financial Public Relations, going to commit a heinous family sin and sell out to the French? He would never be forgiven if he did, as he is a direct descendant of Lord Nelson, who of course gave the French and Spaniards a sound thrashing at Trafalgar.

No takeover of Financial Public Relations is immediately in the offing, but two French PR firms are reported to have made contact. And Mr Preston, together with managing director Murdoch Macleod, do not deny a sale to a third party is possible.

Times have been tough for Financial Public Relations, founded in 1966, after it parted company with its longest standing client, General Accident, at the beginning of last year.

Nelson would have been happier with the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), the London-based think tank founded in 1983 which this week trumpeted its European supremacy. Anthony Loehnis, the CEPR's chairman, declared that "the Centre now plays the leading role in policy-related research in Europe".

The occasion for the tub-thumping was a reorganisation in which Richard Portes, founding director of CEPR, becomes president. Stephen Yoe moves up from deputy director to chief executive officer, while Mathias Dewatripont becomes part-time research director. The Centre now enjoys the support of all European central banks, the Bank for International Settlement and the European Monetary Institute.

Peter Horrocks, senior insolvency partner at lawyers Lovell White Durrant and the leading legal expert working on the six-year-old BCCI liquidation, is set to leave the firm this October, having been a partner since 1975.

"I need a change. I've been in the law for 34 years, and with Lovells for 28 years. When you've worked that long as an adviser you begin to feel that you'd like to be the principal, to be making the decisions for a change," says Mr Horrocks.

Eager for a new challenge, Mr Horrocks says he is thinking about several possibilities and would be happy to receive an offer. One idea of his is that the current spate of mega-mergers between the big accountancy firms, which should reduce them from the Big Six to the Big Four, will produce an opportunity to form a new niche player, perhaps an insolvency practice made up of both lawyers and accountants.

"On the other hand I might become a company doctor, through a chairmanship," he adds.

Whatever his new career path, Mr Horrocks reckons there will be plenty of work to do for receivers and liquidators. "I do think there is another recession coming. The Asian crisis will have an effect, interest rates will rise - it will be enough to knock some companies over."

And when will we first see the signs of trouble?" "June," he replies. You have been warned.

One of Mr Horrocks' accountancy colleagues is Chris Morris of Deloitte & Touche, who is a joint liquidator of both BCCI and Polly Peck, Asil Nadir's crashed electronics to fruit packing business empire.

Mr Morris has just switched solicitors for his multi-million legal action against Polly Peck's former auditors Stoy Hayward. Out go Dibb Lupton Alsop, in come Freshfields.

The UK company collapse figures may be at an all-time low at the moment, but Mr Morris is still being kept busy. His latest job has taken him to Albania, to help sort out several of their notorious pyramid investment schemes. While the Albanian economy may be taking time to adjust to post- communist conditions, says Mr Morris, "the wine there is excellent".

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