Small Talk: Surprise departure of gold miner's chief takes shine off shares

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The Independent Online

It was all change at the top last week at Avocet Mining, the £325m gold digger which is one of the Alternative Investment Market's bigger resources companies. The group's chief executive, Jonathan Henry, decided to call it a day after four years, handing the reins, at least on a temporary basis, to Brett Richards.

Mystery surrounds Mr Henry's decision to quit; not even his communications advisers were told of his reason to jump ship, although we reckon there could well be something a little grander on the horizon. We understand there were a number of small-cap miners trying to get hold of his mobile number on Thursday, the day he revealed his decision.

The group's shares ticked lower on the news after a strong surge of more than 50 per cent over the last six months. Indeed, Mr Henry has done a good job at Avocet, taking the company into West Africa, where it has some potentially lucrative assets. Sadly, at the same time, the share price has suffered pretty horribly during his tenure, although only in line with many other mining groups on Aim.

There will of course be some jockeying for his old job. Mr Richards is clearly in pole position, having agreed to be interim chief executive, but we understand that a number of internal candidates are being considered. The job will also be advertised externally.

Mr Richards has a decent CV, having worked in the mining industry for more than 25 years and held various senior management positions, including being a senior vice-president of Katanga Mining and other jobs at Kinross Gold and Co-Steel. He joined Avocet a little over a year ago in the rather imprecise role of vice-president of corporate affairs, which is often characterised as something of a glorified PR role. We are assured he has attended all the senior management meetings since his appointment.

Analysts were not overly worried about the changes. Ian Rossouw, at JPMorgan Cazenove, said the handover process should "ensure a smooth transition" and any weakness in the share price would be a "buying opportunity given the company's anomalous valuation".

Professor quits top role at Corac

Avocet Mining was not the only company ringing the changes last week. The technology group Corac also said a sort of goodbye when its executive chairman, Gerry Musgrave, said he would step down after the group's annual results detailed a pre-tax loss of £3.7m for 2009. Professor Musgrave will not leave Corac, however, after agreeing to take up the role of director of research and enterprise, a non-board post.

The move will hand over day-to-day responsibility of the company to chief executive Phil Cartmell, who joined last September. Corac also has a new finance director in the shape of Mark Crawford. The news of the annual losses and Professor Musgrave's departure did little for the share price last Wednesday – it fell from 23.5p to 19.5p, although it did recover most its gains the following day when Professor Musgrave and Mr Cartmell bought 170,000 shares between them. Corac floated at 105p in 2001.

Professor Musgrave, who has steered Aim-quoted Corac through different stages of development, is leaving the board next month and argues that "by combining the expertise of the new team and bringing a more dynamic commercial approach, we have the potential to deliver our technology more rapidly into the market".

Takeover bid boosts Win

It was win-win for shareholders in Win on Friday when the Aim-listed mobile content management group received a 141p-a-share offer from the Indian outfit IMI. Shares in Win, which manages the stream of text messages sent to organisations such as the BBC, British Gas and Vodafone, shot up by more than 30 per cent on the news. The offer by IMI, which does the same sort of thing, but largely in India and Africa, is not binding, but assuming that there are no hidden nasties found when the group does its due diligence on Win, the offer should firm up in July. With a nudge over 10.5m shares in circulation, it will be worth about £14.8m.