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Southwell quits troubled Atkins

ATKINS CHIEF executive Robin Southwell has quit after a disastrous start to the financial year for the consultant that will result in a £5M first half loss before tax.

Southwell has paid the price for failing to manage the implementation of a centralised, computerised, accounts department.

Problems with delayed billing and credit control in the first quarter of the year resulted in net debt doubling to around £120M by the end of last month.

The stock market reacted badly to the news, with Atkins shares losing 74% of their value as NCE went to press. Shares closed down 138p at 51p on Tuesday, £2.74 down on the price at flotation in 1997.

Southwell came from British Aerospace with a sales and marketing background, which was what the board wanted at the time, a spokesman said.

But while Southwell was strong strategically, it was felt the firm now needed a chief executive who was stronger on operational issues.

'You only have to look at the figures, ' said the spokesman. 'We have gone through a lot of strategic changes, but there are question marks about the manner in which we've implemented them.'

Reducing debt is now the firm's main priority and up to 400 administrative jobs are to be cut, saving an estimated £15M annually.

With cost savings Atkins hopes to end the 2002/3 financial year broadly in line with the adjusted profit before tax for the second half of 2001/2 of £15.2M.

Group chairman Mike Jeffries will take over as chief executive until a successor is appointed.

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