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Maxmin Exiting as Laura Ashley CEO

LONDON -- Laura Ashley Holdings PLC said Tuesday that Jim Maxmin, its chief executive, is leaving the company next month "following disagreement over the investment levels necessary for the business."<BR><BR>Maxmin is not being replaced immediately, a...

LONDON — Laura Ashley Holdings PLC said Tuesday that Jim Maxmin, its chief executive, is leaving the company next month “following disagreement over the investment levels necessary for the business.”

Maxmin is not being replaced immediately, a company spo-kesman said.

Hugh Blakeway Webb, who joined Laura Ashley as non-executive chairman last May from accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, will become executive chairman of the board on June 1.

“It is not the intention to name a new chief executive, but the situation will be reviewed in due course,” the spokesman said. “This has all happened very suddenly.”

No date has been set for Maxmin’s departure. Blakeway Webb said Maxmin led the group through a difficult period but “the way forward is now clearer, and I am confident in the prospects for the medium term.”

Further details on reasons for Maxmin’s exit were not available, and he could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The news sent Laura Ashley’s shares down almost 6 percent on the London Stock Exchange to close at $1.18 (80 pence), down from $1.25 (85 pence).

Additional explanation is expected Thursday, when Laura Ashley will announce its results for the year ended Jan. 29. The company said these will be in line with analysts’ expectations, which are for pre-tax profits of $3.7 million to $4.4 million (2.5 million pounds to 3 million pounds). This compares with pre-tax profits of 1.8 million pounds on sales of 247.8 million pounds the previous year.

Maxmin, 51, joined Laura Ashley in September 1991 following a year-long search for a new chief executive that started when the company plunged into the red. He turned around the women’s wear and home furnishings retailer by cutting 300 jobs worldwide, signing a 10-year deal with Federal Express to handle Laura Ashley’s worldwide distribution and warehousing systems, shifting the group toward more outside sourcing and hiring Eric Bremner from Max Mara to revamp its women’s wear line.

But the turnaround was held back by problems in the U.S., where the firm had poor systems and complicated distribution patterns. Analysts said these problems are being solved following the appointment of Stephen Cotter as head of the group’s U.S. retail unit in January 1993. Cotter also heads U.K. retail operations.

Cotter and Stephen Grant, who heads the group’s product development and design operations, will become executive directors on June 1, Laura Ashley further said Tuesday. They will join Andrew Higginson, the finance director; Denise Lincoln, the human resources director, and Alphons Schouten, the chief executive of the Continental European retail operations.