Leighton to chair set-top box maker - but can he take the Pace?

Pace appoints Allan Leighton as its new chairman, but analysts have questioned whether he'll have the time to spare.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 05 Jul 2011
Could Allan Leighton, the man who invented (or at least popularised) the corporate notion of ‘going plural’ instead of having a full-time job, be pushing the boundaries of his theory too far? Just a week after he was made chairman of budget fashion chain Peacocks, he’s also taken the chairman role at struggling set-top box maker Pace. The City seems pleased; news has pushed up shares in the company by 3%, to 118.3p. But could Leighton finally have too much on his plate?

Leighton will replace Pace’s current chairman, Mike McTighe, who’s due to retire in three weeks. The firm is certainly in need of a fresh start: despite this morning’s rally, its shares are still worth less than half as much as three months ago, when the firm was forced to issue two profit warnings. Like other technology companies, it’s been affected by supply chain issues caused by the Japanese earthquake – but it’s also made other mistakes, like over-ordering certain components. Forking out £300m last year for US router manufacturer 2wire might not have been the best timing, either.

If anyone can help Pace, though, Leighton’s arguably the man for the job. Having spent eight years helping Archie Norman transform Asda from struggling business into a £500m company, as well as a long (and not uncontroversial) stint as chairman of Royal Mail, he’s got plenty of experience in challenging businesses. More recently, he’s spent the last couple of years commuting to Canada as deputy chairman of Selfridges. And he clearly has no intention of treading lightly: apparently, his first intention is to embark upon a no-holds-barred strategic review...

But while Leighton’s philosophy of plurality might have started a trend, analysts are worried that this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. On top of those positions at Pace and Peacocks (where he’s rumoured to be gearing up to create an ‘Arcadia-style’ group of budget retailers) and Selfridges, he’s also chairman of Danish jewellery company Pandora, deputy chairman of food giant George Weston, as well as being a non-exec at BSkyB (which is also likely to take up more of his time over the next few months, given the ongoing battle over News Corp’s bid for the company). Some analysts have also questioned whether the company really needs a strategic review – or whether it just needs to do a better job of delivering its current strategy.

Still, we hope he does make a go of it. Based in a former textiles mill in Yorkshire, Pace is a proper British technology business. And on the evidence of his track record, Leighton is one of our top bosses. Fingers crossed this turns out to be a good appointment for both of them.

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