Premier boss quits during rescue plan
Jan 29, 2013 (Daily Mail - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
THE boss of Hovis owner Premier Foods abruptly quit midway through its turnaround plan, claiming he has completed everything he set out to achieve.
Shares in the firm, which also owns Mr Kipling cakes and Sharwood's exotic meals, plunged 10pc after chief executive Michael Clarke said he also wanted to step down to spend more time snowboarding with his son.
Premier which is still battling with a substantial pounds sterling 973m debt mountain and broken bread business said Clarke was leaving after 18 months.
He will walk away with his joining reward of 500,000 shares, which happened to vest this month, and are worth around pounds sterling 500,000, as well as an equivalent cash sum.
The firm -- which almost collapsed after former chief executive Robert Schofield made his disastrous pounds sterling 1.2bn acquisition of Rank Hovis McDougall at the height of the boom years -- is still in intensive care.
Clarke has been widely credited with turning parts of the business around by making a host of disposals to reduce the debt pile, boosting revenues, and cutting costs.
But chairman David Beever could not persuade Clarke to stay on to finish the job.
He said: "Mike's done a great job and we are disappointed he's leaving without driving the business forward this year and next year."
Clarke will take a couple of long holidays and then seek a job with a bigger firm.
"Over the last 18 months I have killed myself for this company and put everything into it," he said. "I have done all the things I said I would and no-one can deny I have pleasantly surprised stakeholders.
"They like Mike Clarke, they love Mike Clarke, they like the speed with which he's done the turnaround, and they want a bit more of Mike Clarke, but they appreciate he wants to move on."
Premier has spent the past month searching for a replacement, appointing Gavin Darby, the former chief executive of Cable & Wireless Worldwide, who will take over next week.
But unusually, Beever admitted Darby was the only candidate interviewed, saying: "He was the only person we were interested in although I might have said hello to one other but we didn't get on."
The company has pledged to match a "significant" but undisclosed sum Darby intends to spend buying stock in Premier (down 14.5p to 106p).
Martin Deboo, an analyst at broker Investec said: "We see the surprise change in leadership as unhelpful to Premier's stability and organic growth prospects."
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