18 Aug 2009

Fisher and Paykel chief to stand down

9:24 am on 18 August 2009

Fisher & Paykel chief executive John Bongard says he is stepping down from his job to deal with cancer and is ruling out a comeback to the company.

Mr Bongard made the suprise announcement at a shareholders' meeting on Monday.

The whiteware manufacturer is working on its partnership with new Chinese shareholder Haier and, like many other New Zealand manufacturers, is continuing to face tough trading conditions.

Mr Bongard, who has prostate cancer, says his doctor has been telling him for about a year to take it easier. He has been five years in the top job and will leave at the end of the year.

Shares in the company fell 6% in the wake of Mr Bongard's news and the announcement that the company was unlikely to pay a dividend until it reduced its debt.

Chairman Gary Paykel told shareholders its debt reduction programme is $30 million ahead of target, and net debt currently stands at $308 million.

Mr Paykel says investors are likely to miss out because the company needs to pay back bank debt as part of its deal to secure extra funding.

In the past four months of trading, Fisher & Paykel sales in North America have been slower than expected, though that has been balanced by stronger earnings in other markets. It expects to make a flat full-year profit of $32.8 million.

In May, the company bolstered its balance sheet by $143 million through the issue of new shares, enabling Chinese electronics and appliance maker Haier to take a 20% stake.

Mr Bongard says Fisher & Paykel's high-end expertise and Haier's global strength should help revive its fortunes.

Former fund manager Simon Botherway has been appointed to the company's board as an independent director.