He is to be replaced by Paolo Scaroni, the Italian head of Pilkington's automotive products division, who has gained a reputation as a determined cost cutter. Signs that the board may be ready to take decisive action to reverse the group's plunging share price in the face of two profit warnings over the past 12 months prompted a 6p rise in the shares to 121.5p yesterday.
Sir Nigel paid tribute to Mr Leverton's labours in reshaping Pilkington, which have seen some 8,000 jobs shed over the past four years as the group attempted to combat plummeting European glass prices.
"We have done quite a lot of restructuring but we felt the pace of change was not fast enough in a very difficult industry," he said. "Roger has done a good job, but it is not good enough."
Mr Leverton, whose two-year contract paying pounds 447,000 in 1995-96 could put him in line for a pay-off approaching pounds 900,000, said he was disappointed that the efforts to refocus the business had not come through to shareholders. "Trading conditions have been extremely difficult in certain of our key markets and results have been disappointing. The board felt that, under the circumstances, the next stage of the company's development should be handled by a new chief executive."
Mr Scaroni joined Pilkington in November from Techint, an Italian engineering group, where he was executive vice chairman.
Prior to that he was for 12 years with Saint Gobain, the French glass maker, ending up in charge of the group's worldwide flat glass activities.
A senior source in the company said the decision to replace Mr Leverton had been made by the non-executive directors, who had decided that the pace of change needed to be accelerated. Although there would not necessarily be more job losses, the intention was to undertake a new delayering of management and costs.
The group yesterday confirmed its March warning that profits would be cut to pounds 130m in 1996-97.