Laird reassures as chief steps down

Laird, the electronics group, assured investors earnings were still on target as it announced that Peter Hill would step down as chief executive with immediate effect due to ill health.

Nigel Keen, chairman, will assume the role of executive chairman and will lead an executive committee to deal with daily operations. No timeline has been set for appointing a new chief executive.

Mr Keen emphasised that he had worked together with Mr Hill to create the company’s strategy in the past 10 years and that it would not change. “We have a sound strategy based on the one outlined. We have advanced technology and great opportunities to grow,” he said, adding that the company would continue with its acquisition program.

During the 10 years that Peter Hill was chief executive he helped to transform the 187-year-old company from an industrial conglomerate with roots in ironwork and shipbuilding into one which produces wireless and electronic products.

Mr Hill oversaw 18 acquisitions, for a sum of more than $822m, and three disposals worth a total of $470m.

However, Chris Dyett, an analyst at Investec, pointed out that Laird’s share price outperformed the sector on Monday in part on the news that a fresh face would take the helm. Laird’s share price rose 8.5p to close at 140.3p.

The news comes just five months after Laird rebuffed a takeover offer from Cooper, a US manufacturer, for £533m. During the bidding period the share price rose by almost half, only to fall to pre-bid lows after the offer was rejected.

In July Laird set medium to long-term targets which management on Monday maintained would not change. These included earnings per share of no less than 16p for the 2011 financial year, and a dividend per share of no less than 8p.

“Company set some pretty aggressive targets in terms of earnings but the balance sheet lends itself to pay out dividends,” said Mr Dyett.

Mr Keen said the company had diversified its customer base over the past few years, after being heavily exposed to the smartphone sector, for which it provides electromagnetic shields.

Its most recent acquisitions have been focused on companies which are less dependent on consumer demand including Kluver, a designer of active cooling systems for medical devices such as CT scanners and X-rays, which Laird bought for $35m, and Cattron, which makes control systems for the mining sector, for $90m.

Laird’s customers include Cisco, General Motors, HP and Chrysler, as well as Nokia and other smartphone markers.

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