Mr Rooney cut short his holiday in Barbados last week and flew home in a futile attempt to head off an investor rebellion. The company's two leading shareholders - the Prudential with 9 per cent and Lazard Freres, the US investment bank, with 6 per cent - held a meeting at N M Rothschild last week at which they decided to replace Mr Rooney as chairman.
The shareholders have delayed taking action over Mr Rooney however, because they have been unable to persuade Roy Barber to take the job of chairman instead. Mr Barber, the company doctor who became Spring Ram's first ever non- executive director just 10 weeks ago, has said he cannot take on the role as he is too busy turning round Bimec, the environmental engineering group where he is chairman.
The investors are also worried that Mr Rooney, with a substantial stake in Spring Ram, may sell his shares when he learns that he is to be replaced as chairman. That could depress the share price.
A leading institutional investor told the Independent on Sunday it was concerned about the length of time taken by Spring Ram to strengthen its board. It feels there might be a problem recruiting senior executives while Mr Rooney maintains his dominating role.
Some institutions have suggested that if a non-executive chairman can be recruited then Alan Bell, the head of the kitchens side, could take over as chief executive, perhaps as a stop-gap.
The group has been trying to recruit a new finance director since sacking Stuart Greenwood at the end of March. Stephen Lister, finance director of the hosiery group Peter Black, has been identified as a candidate, but he has not agreed to join the company yet. In the meantime, Mr Greenwood was kept on. A source close to the company said this 'strange arrangement', which existed until last week, has now been ended.
The company has also been hoping to recruit a second and possibly a third non- executive director, but has found it difficult to find the right people.
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