Convenience food group Uniq today (Tuesday) announced that its chairman Bill Ronald is leaving after the conclusion of a strategic review.

“The board and Bill Ronald have mutually concluded that the successful execution of the new strategy requires a different set of leadership skills to drive rapid change and to introduce leaner and more responsive management structures,” the company said. “Bill Ronald, who has been chief executive since February 2002, will therefore be leaving the business.”

“A search is under way for his successor and an appointment will be made as soon as possible,” it said. “In the meantime, Nigel Stapleton, the chairman, will be taking a greater involvement alongside the three divisional managing directors and the group finance director in guiding the implementation of this new strategy.”

Uniq operates three divisions in the UK, France, and Germany and Benelux. “As a result of the review the Board has decided that the strategy of seeking to build this portfolio into a Pan European chilled food business is no longer appropriate,” Uniq said. “The Group’s current priority should be to focus on the growth and profitability of its three core divisions rather than seeking to further integrate these businesses given their different characteristics and the slow rate at which these major markets are converging.  Accordingly, the Group plans to manage the three divisions as largely free-standing businesses which can nonetheless continue to benefit collectively from centralised purchasing, treasury, tax and finance functions.”

The change will allow a greater devolution of decision-making to the three divisional managing directors facilitating increased responsiveness to changing competitive conditions and a faster rate of product innovation.

It will lead to significant savings in overhead costs. The board believes that the change of focus, which will be accompanied by higher levels of media support behind the branded products, will deliver a faster rate of revenue growth and profit improvement in the business than would be achievable from a continuation of the existing strategy.

The Board is targeting a reduction in overhead costs of at least £6m (US$11.5m) in 2005/06 against current annual expenditure levels growing to annual savings of more than £20mby 2007/08.  Associated exceptional costs on restructuring will total approximately £38m over 3 years of which around £30m will be cash costs.

“Uniq has an attractive portfolio of businesses, the majority of which have strong market positions, said chairman Nigel Stapleton. “The board is confident that these businesses can deliver greater value to shareholders if the divisional management teams are more focused and we take the tough decisions needed to drive down cost and accelerate product innovation. We are sorry to be parting company with Bill Ronald as a result of these decisions.  The board thanks him for his contribution and wishes him well for the future.”