Southgate departs EMI with pounds 800,000 payoff

SIR COLIN SOUTHGATE, the controversial executive chairman of EMI, is to receive a payoff of about pounds 800,000 following yesterday's announcement that he is to be replaced at the helm of the music group by Eric Nicoli, the chief executive of United Biscuits.

The surprise appointment of Mr Nicoli, a United Biscuits veteran with little experience of the music industry, ended EMI's five-month search for a new chief. At the end of last year Sir Colin told the group that he wanted to quit to focus on his job as chairman of London's crisis-torn Royal Opera House.

The company said yesterday Sir Colin would go at the end of July after 15 years with EMI, 10 of them in the top job. His contract runs until 2001, and sources said he would receive around pounds 800,000 as compensation for loss of earnings.

Mr Nicoli, a non-executive director of EMI since 1993, is to receive a pay package of over pounds 500,000 plus a one-off payment for losing his United Biscuits loyalty bonus. He will be replaced at United Biscuits by Leslie Van der Walle, chief executive of its McVitie's subsidiary.

The 48-year old Mr Nicoli, who has headed the food company since 1991, was chosen ahead of several well-known music industry names, including Alain Levy, former head of Polygram.

Insiders said Mr Nicoli's inexperience of the music business would not be a drawback. "He hasn't been hired for his knowledge of the music industry. He has been hired for his managerial and leadership capabilities," one said. The appointment of an outsider would guarantee the independence of Ken Berry and Martin Bandier, the respected chiefs of EMI's records and music publishing divisions, he added.

Mr Nicoli's priorities will be to turn round EMI's share performance and mend his predecessor's rift with investors. Sir Colin had a mixed relationship with the City. His demerger of rental group Thorn and HMV in the early 1990s was credited with transforming EMI into a focused music business. However, more recently he was attacked for rebuffing a 600p- a-share pounds 4.7bn takeover offer from Seagram of Canada. The rejection caused a collapse in EMI's share price.

Sir Colin also came under fire for the pounds 12.5m payoff awarded to Jim Fifield, who quit the group after being rejected as chief executive-designate.