Amey, one of the country's biggest PFI contractors, was plunged into fresh turmoil yesterday when its new finance director quit after only five weeks in the job.
The shock resignation of Michael Kayser sent Amey shares tumbling by more than a half to an all-time low of 23.5p, valuing the group at just £59m. Amey's stock market value has fallen by more than 90 per cent since it announced changes in its accounting practices in March which had the effect of turning a £55m profit last year into an £18m loss.
An Amey spokesman denied that Mr Kayser had resigned because he had discovered a fresh "black hole" in the group's accounts or because the group was about to issue another profits warning.
Instead, he insisted that there had been a "clash of personalities" with the rest of the board, led by the chief executive Brian Staples, and that Mr Kayser was "temperamentally unsuited" to a support services company.
However, other industry sources said Mr Kayser had decided to leave because he did not agree with the way in which Amey's accounts were constructed. "If he had stayed he would have wanted to make some substantial changes but Amey weren't prepared to do that," the source said.
Analysts said the chaos at Amey could make Mr Staples' position untenable. "Management credibility is shot to ribbons and Brian Staples has to go," Leslie Kent of Seymour Pierce said.
Mr Kayser only joined Amey on 11 September, the previous finance director David Miller having announced his departure in August following the change in accounting policy earlier in the year. Previously, Mr Kayser had been finance director of the Derby-based engineering group Doncasters, where he only remained for a year.
Amey is now bringing in a partner from the accountants Deloitte & Touche to act as finance director on a stop-gap basis while it searches for a permanent replacement.
The as-yet unnamed temporary finance director is due to start work in the next week and will conduct a full review of Amey's accounting policies which will be presented alongside the group's annual results in March next year.
Mr Kayser was on a one-year rolling contract and earned a salary of about £300,000 a year. He will stay on the payroll until the end of the year. To add to the confusion, his predecessor had also agreed to stay with Amey until the end of the year to effect an orderly handover.
Sir Ian Robinson, the chairman of Amey, said the group was "surprised and disappointed" that Mr Kayser was leaving so soon, particularly as the company needed a period of stability while it implemented a restructuring plan.
Amey is getting rid of its technology services division and selling its equity stakes in nine PFI projects. Last month it said the restructuring would result in a £10m one-off charge in the current year. But yesterday Amey indicated that the impact could be greater.
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