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Management Changes At Britain’s Grand Met

September 24, 1993

LONDON (AP) _ Grand Metropolitan PLC, the food and drinks conglomerate with brand names ranging from Burger King to Haagen-Dazs, announced a management shakeup that startled stock traders Friday.

Grand Met’s chairman, Sir Allen Sheppard, 60, will relinquish the title of group chief executive as he prepares for retirement.

The No. 3 executive at Grand Met, foods sector chairman George Bull, will replace Sheppard in that day-to-day management job after beating out the No. 2 executive, chief operating officer Ian Martin.

Grand Met provided few details about its decision.

Its stock price fell by about 3.4 percent in London trading as financial markets were taken aback by the abrupt change.

″I think the company should have handled this better, rather than putting out a bland statement saying George Bull is becoming chief executive,″ said John Walters, a securities analyst who follows Grand Met for the London brokerage Smith New Court. ″Every man and his dog believed Ian Martin would become CEO.″

Martin, 58, will abandon his roles as group managing director and chief operating officer, but he will become a non-executive deputy chairman, advising the company on North American affairs, Grand Met said. Sheppard said he intends to remain as full-time chairman until retiring in January 1996.

The shakeup led to a flurry of rumors among financial traders that the company might soon announce disappointing earnings prospects, Walters said. Many investors responded by selling Grand Met stock.

A day earlier, the big British brewing group Guinness PLC reported a 9 percent drop in its six-month profits, while forecasting a flat performance for the full year.

Grand Met acknowledged the Guinness statement had made markets nervous and said a report on its own earnings prospects were a possibility although no decision had been made. The executive changes were a separate matter, the company said.

″The Ian issue was not performance related,″ Grant Met spokesman Neil Garnett said. ″With George having a strong background as a brand man, a marketer and a team builder - that’s the way Grand Met has to go. That’s very much George.″

The company has put in a respectable performance in recent years, holding its own despite a bad global economy that has held back growth among most industries, analysts say.

Profits for the company’s last fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, were off 5 percent at the equivalent of $1.10 billion.

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