George Simpson confirmed yesterday that he is stepping down as chief executive of Lucas Industries, fuelling speculation that he is poised to be named as Lord Weinstock's successor at GEC, Britain's largest electronics group.
The exact timing of Mr Simpson's departure remained unclear yesterday, with Lucas saying only that he would not be renewing his three year contract which expires at the end of March 1997. Mike Beard, a spokesman for Lucas, said: "The good news is George Simpson is here to stay for some time. He is here for up to another year."
That appeared to leave the door open for an earlier departure once Lucas had sorted out his successor. Lord Weinstock is expected to stand down as managing director of GEC in the autumn, shortly after his 72nd birthday.
GEC was tight-lipped on reports that it was about to offer the job to Mr Simpson. It refused to confirm that it would hold a board meeting on Monday or whether Lord Weinstock's successor would be discussed.
The announcement of Mr Simpson's impending departure followed a week of speculation about the proposed top level changes at GEC. As well as a replacement for Lord Weinstock, a successor Lord Prior as chairman is also expected soon. Names suggested for that job include Sir Peter Levene, former head of defence procurement and chief executive of Canary Wharf, the London docklands development. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Separately, Lucas poured cold water on speculation that its Aerospace division might be either up for sale or the subject of a renewed management buyout attempt. Mr Beard said: "The division has very high returns. We would only sell it if we needed the money to do something else and we don't."
Another factor pointing to an autumn departure for George Simpson is understood to be a desire on his and the company's part to end his contribution since joining the company from Rover with a strong set of full year results. Lucas has a July year end.
Mr Simpson recently told an industry conference in Detroit that there was still a big job to do at Lucas. Although the company has strong products and market positions in braking, diesel systems and actuators, it has been held back by difficult trading conditions, the need to reshape its old divisional structure and a distracting US government lawsuit against one of its North American aerospace subsidiaries.