Wenger steps up as Lyons quits Doulton

Stuart Lyons, Royal Doulton's combative chief executive, was ousted yesterday after 12 years at the helm of the world-famous chinaware company. Peter Whally, finance director, said the decision was by mutual agreement and would be followed by a review to improve profitability and management of costs within the company.

The company declined to disclose the compensation that would be paid to Mr Lyons, who had a two-year rolling contract paying pounds 175,000 a year.

In a statement ahead of yesterday's annual general meeting, Doulton warned about the impact of the strong pound and said trading at the start of the year had been "somewhat disappointing". Shares in the company slid 6 per cent to 261.5p.

Sources close to the company believe that Mr Lyons was asked to leave after the Doulton board rejected his proposals for an acquisition in Germany or the US. Doulton, which demerged from media group Pearson in 1993, said it had been in discussions regarding a possible transaction but would not now proceed. The group said interim results would include a pounds 1.6m charge relating to the deal.

Analysts welcomed the news of Mr Lyons' departure, but were disappointed that his successor would not be from outside the company. Mr Lyons will be replaced by Patrick Wenger, Doulton's managing director, who has been with the company for 37 years.

One analyst, who did not want to be named, said: "Stuart wasn't suitable as a chief executive. He didn't appear to be driving the company forward in the right way and was painting a rosy picture to outsiders. But I would like to have seen a new broom."

The group's trading statement prompted analysts to trim their profit forecasts. Kleinwort Benson has its numbers from pounds 19.8m to pounds 18.2m for 1997. Doulton said sterling was "adversely affecting both export sales and sales to tourists visiting the UK". Start-up costs relating to gas supply to the group's Indonesian manufacturing plant would also affect first-half results and would delay full production levels at the plant by three months. However the company said order books from Indonesia were well above expectations.

Analysts said a new focus on costs was needed and the group was struggling in difficult markets.