Ross plans board restructuring at Littlewoods group

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The Independent Online
James Ross, the new chairman of the Littlewoods retail and football pools group, is planning a big shake-up of the company's board structure which could see the last remaining members of the controlling Moores family leave the board.

Mr Ross, who joined from Cable & Wireless in May, said the changes would be made in the next few months. They will include the creation of three categories of director: executive; non-executive; and link directors. This last group will be responsible for communicating information between the board and the 32 members of the Moores family which control the Liverpool- based company. He said they would "not necessarily" be members of the family, who would have to compete for places against external candidates.

After the recent retirement of John Moores there are two members of the family on the board. They are Lady Grantchester, the eldest daughter of the Littlewoods founder, the late Sir John Moores, and her son James Suenson-Taylor.

Mr Ross is confident that the changes can be achieved with the family's agreement as the Moores signed a shareholders charter earlier this year which meant that they were no longer guaranteed seats on the board.

This followed the family's decision in January not to pursue two pounds 1bn takeover bids for the company, one from former chief executive Barry Dale, the other from N Brown, the mail order company, and Iceland, the frozen food retailer.

Mr Ross said the family had no intention of selling any of the company's parts. He added that the family was keen to stay with the company.

"If you strip out inflation, this company's results have stagnated for almost a decade. The attraction for me is to take a company with latent potential and in a period of three to five years really get it motoring."

Mr Ross also heralded a new spirit of openness within the company. It met City analysts for the first time yesterday, though denied this was a prelude to a float. Yesterday's results for the six months to 30 June was it first ever interim results statement.

Mr Ross denied the company was seeking to behave like a public company. "We are trying to behave like a well-managed company." He also pledged to be more open with all the company's stakeholders including suppliers, joint venture partners and potential new employees.

In the six months to June, Littlewoods' pre-tax profits fell 24 per cent to pounds 12.5m. Group sales fell by 5 per cent to pounds 995m. In the retail business, which includes the chain stores, sales improved by 7 per cent with the bottom line turning from the previous year's pounds 4m loss to a pounds 4m profit. Sales at the football pools business fell by 29 per cent to pounds 245m. But profits improved by 6.5 per cent to pounds 11.5m.

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