January 18, 2013 5:32 pm

Games Workshop loses chief executive

Games Workshop has lost its chief executive as the miniature model maker was boosted by brisk sales of toy soldiers in the US.

The company said Tom Kirby, Games Workshop’s chairman, would replace Mark Wells as acting chief executive until a permanent replacement is found.

Mr Wells spent five years at the company, whose recent robust sales of model orks, elves, ogres and wizards have helped it weather the consumer spending downturn relatively well.

“We discussed this for a while and Mark preferred a clean break,” said Mr Kirby, who added he would be in the job for at least a year until an internal candidate is found.

The departure comes as Games Workshop reported revenues of £67.4m in the six months to December 2, up from £62.7m during the same period in 2011, bolstered by increasing sales to American teenagers attracted to its fantasy world.

Pre-tax profits increased from £9.4m to £11m, while diluted earnings per share rose from 21.8p to 25.4p. The company announced an interim dividend of 18p a share, unchanged from last year.

The performance is a far cry from the beginning of 2011 when the City raised questions about Games Workshop’s long-term viability – particularly in the face of the strength of online gaming – after difficult trading conditions forced it to issue a profit warning.

However, in the company’s 2012 annual report Mr Kirby said the release of electronic games consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 had a negligible impact on the group’s toys.

Last July the company reported full-year pre-tax profits of £19.5m, up 27 per cent, and raised its full-year dividend 40 per cent year on year.

The company, which opened its first shop in Shanghai in 2011, is targeting geographic expansion in Asia, continental Europe, the US and Australia.

“Wherever we go in the world we can usually find people who want to play with toy soldiers,” said Mr Kirby. “The cultural differences aren’t so important . . . teenage boys tend to like the same kind of things and toy soldiers fall into one of those universal categories.”

However, the North American market, where interim sales rose by £2.5m to £17.9m during the first half, has emerged as a particular focus.

“North America is going very well,” said Mr Kirby. “We’re looking at 700-800 stores in the US in the extreme long term and we’ve got 80 at the moment with plans to open 1-20 stores per year.”

Games Workshop shares closed unchanged at 660p.

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