The finance director who lasted just eight hours

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The Independent Online
BY NIGEL COPE

The finance director of Hi-Tec, the troubled sports shoe maker, has resigned after just eight hours in the job. John Fallon entered the office as finance director on Thursday morning, but after a day-long board meeting which included disagreements over the role of the chairman Frank van Wezel, he tendered his resignation and left immediately. Two non-executive directors, John Sharkey and Andre Kofman, have also quit the board.

Mr Fallon was appointed to the position in March after leaving his job as managing director of the sports and leisurewear division of Sears, the retail group. Due to contractual obligations at Sears, he did not officially take up his post until Thursday. It proved to be his first and only official day at the office.

The company yesterday refused to elaborate on the abrupt departure, which must rank as one of the shortest tenures in British corporate history. Hi-Tec's chief executive, Terry Mackness, said: "We will make a full announcement and explanation with our preliminary results announcement on 7 July." However, it is believed that Mr Fallon left following a disagreement over the role of Hi-Tec's founder and chairman Mr van Wezel.

Last November, Mr van Wezel split the roles of chairman and chief executive, but remained executive chairman. It is understood that Mr Fallon and the two non-executive directors wanted to encourage the founder to step back further from the day-to-day running of the business. The board meeting appears to have ended in a clash of personalities and disagreements about how the company should be managed .

Neither Mr Fallon nor Mr van Wezel were available for comment yesterday. The company;'s shares, which reached 207p in 1992, slumped 5.5p yesterday to close at 26p.

Mr van Wezel, a 54-year-old Dutchman, is a tennis, squash and football fanatic. He founded the business as Inter-footwear in 1974, floated it on the stock market at Hi-Tec Sports in 1988 and still owns 54 per cent of the shares. In 1992, fortunes of the Essex-based company peaked with profits of pounds 9m on sales of pounds 127m. It has since struggled from one misfortune to the next.

It has issued two profits warnings in the last three years and posted an pounds 8m loss in 1993. Last year, the company made a pre-tax loss of pounds 1m on sales of pounds 126m.

In 1993, the company recruited two high-profile non-executive directors - Sir John Edwardes, the former British Leyland chairman, and Richard Fenhalls, the former chief executive of merchant bank Henry Ansbacher. Both left after just two months.

In October, Mr van Wezel admitted investors had had a rough ride but promised better times ahead. "We have built up a global brand selling in 84 countries. Those who stay with us will cash in one day, but they do need patience."

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