Shareholders attack Pentos payoff to ousted Maher: Retailer's new chairman says big loss will be 'bottom of the cycle'

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SHAREHOLDERS in Pentos, the troubled book and stationery retailer, yesterday attacked the pounds 392,176 payoff to Terry Maher, ousted last year as chairman and chief executive.

Sir Kit McMahon, who succeeded Mr Maher as chairman, said the payment was in line with Mr Maher's contract. Had it not been made, the group would have had to go to court.

One shareholder said that Sir Kit himself admitted that there had been extreme deficiencies in the management of the company, adding: 'Anyone with a hard head would have told Terry Maher to get on his bike and go. To pay him pounds 392,176 smacks of a real supine nature.'

The complaints, at the annual meeting in London, came as Sir Kit warned the group would make a substantial loss in the first half. 'This should represent the bottom of the cycle for Pentos.'

The loss was expected and the shares closed unchanged at 25.5p.

The loss will be partly due to a change in depreciation policy that will add pounds 1.4m to the charge, and the loss of property income that contributed pounds 2.6m last time.

The group has also reversed the previous management's policy of phasing costs to match seasonal fluctuations in sales, and will charge them in the month they are incurred. In the six months to June 1993, that would have meant pounds 10.2m extra costs, which would have increased its loss to pounds 10.6m.

Sir Kit also admitted that Pentos was 'severely cash- constrained' in the first half, which had hit trading. Suppliers were not paid on time and stock levels were 'inadequate and unbalanced'. This adversely affected day-to-day trading.

Bill McGrath, the new chief executive, said the group had been working hard to restore relations with suppliers and that process was almost at an end.

The supply problem was most acute at Dillons, the book chain, which hit sales in the second quarter. Old and slow-moving books were also marked down in the January sales, cutting margins. Overall, sales in the first six months were up 3 per cent.

At Athena, the card and poster business, they were held at last year's level, while Ryman managed a 1 per cent increase. The office furniture business was the star performer, with sales up 8 and orders 17 per cent.

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