Stock Spirits sacrifices CEO as it fights off hostile takeover bid

By bne IntelliNews April 18, 2016

The CEO of Stock Spirits has stepped down, the Central and Eastern European distiller and alcohol wholesaler announced on April 18.

Chris Heath's departure, less than a week after the company posted a surprise release of quarterly results, is clearly a defensive move as Stock Spirits fights off rising pressure from its biggest shareholder. Portuguese businessman Luis Amaral is speculated to be in the midst of efforts to mount a hostile takeover bid.

Heath, who will take “early retirement” after seven years at the helm, had become a major focus for Amaral, who bought a 9.7% stake in the London- and Prague-listed company late last year as poor results saw the share price collapse. Stock Spirits told shareholders recently that Amaral would not represent their best interests due to his ownership of Polish wholesaler Eurocash, one of the London-based company's biggest customers.

Via investment vehicle Western Gate Private Investments, Amaral launched a broadside in early April calling for Heath’s head over his alleged failure to come up with a strategy to turn the company around, particularly in its most important market Poland. Stock Spirits appointed a new MD for Poland last week.

"Our plan was to ensure that we had a new Polish managing director in place before initiating any other changes to avoid further uncertainty," Chairman David Maloney said in the April 18 statement. “But Western Gate's actions have clearly interrupted our careful planning and so we decided to accelerate the CEO process."

Miroslaw “Mirek” Stachowicz, an independent non-executive director since November 2015, will serve as interim CEO until a suitable replacement is found, the statement adds. Stock Spirits will clearly hope removing Heath will help diffuse any effort by Amaral to persuade other shareholders to support his bid. Several London-based funds feature amongst the list of owners.

Stock Spirits has struggled over the past couple of years as it has seen its share of the Polish market, by far its largest, sliding. The company also trades in the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

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