Smiths chairman's retirement sparks GEC speculation

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The Independent Online
Sir Roger Hurn is today expected to announce his retirement as chairman of Smiths Industries, heightening speculation that he will become the next chairman of the GEC defence and electronics giant .

Shareholders attending Smiths' annual meeting at its North-west London headquarters will be told that Sir Roger intends to step down after 29 years with the group, the last six of them as chairman.

However, there will not be an announcement either from GEC or Smiths about where he is going although his appointment to the chairman's job at GEC in succession to Lord Prior now looks increasingly like a formality. "He has the right background, he has the experience in defence and he is well respected. Everything seems to fit," said one source.

Sir Roger has been tipped to take over at GEC for some months. However, his present pounds 719,000-a-year contract at Smiths does not run out until November next year, at which point he can leave with three months' notice. GEC needs to sort out the succession to the chairman's job by March, when Lord Prior retires from the pounds 200,000-a-year post.

Lord Prior, GEC's outgoing chairman, told shareholders in September that the company would name a successor early the new year. Sir Roger, aged 59, emerged as a leading contender for the job after George Simpson made clear that he was breaking with GEC's tradition of appointing former politicians to its board, killing off rumours that Michael Heseltine might succeed Lord Prior.

Sir Roger, who joined Smiths Industries in 1958 and has run the company since 1981, has already built up a close relationship with Mr Simpson. They are both non-executive directors of ICI and share backgrounds in the engineering industry.

If GEC does appoint Sir Roger, the move would bolster City expectations that Mr Simpson will accelerate the reform of the group which makes everything from trains to Hotpoint kitchen appliances.

- Michael Harrison and Chris Godsmark