Ronson to fight Hodgson compensation

Ronson is set to contest the payment of any compensation to Howard Hodgson, the multi-millionaire who was ousted as chief executive of the company last month, according to company insiders. Mr Hodgson, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, was on a two-year rolling contract that paid pounds 150,000 per annum.

Separately, it is thought that Mr Hodgson harbours aspirations to buy some parts of the lighter to leather goods group. Directors at the company, which has served up two profits warnings in the past four months, want to slim down operations to focus on its core branded lighters and watches.

Ronson also sells sunglasses, pens, leather luggage and jewellery as well as operating home shopping, duty-free and packaging businesses.

While the group said no decisions had been made on the future shape of the company, Alan Kilkenny, a non-executive director, said the company had "tried to get into too many markets".

Commenting on the suggestion that there might be fat to trim in the company, Mr Kilkenny said: "You can be assured that there will not be profligacy from now on."

He was speaking as the company reported pre-tax losses of pounds 2.2m for the year to December compared to pounds 4m of profits made in 1995.

The losses, pounds 200,000 higher than the group predicted when it posted a financial warning in June, were attributed to relocation and reorganisation expenses, costs from shipping products which were not in stock to meet orders, reduced margins and a pounds 900,000 bad debt provision. Sales, which fell 7 per cent, had been hit by a factory fire.

Laurie Todd, finance director, said he did not expect further provisions, but warned that first-half losses would be "significant" in order to invest in reviving the Ronson brand. A new information technology system was likely to cost around pounds 1m.

Shaun Dowling, executive chairman, said there was "solid demand" for the group's products.