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CEO of Stock Spirits takes early retirement following pressure to step down over problems in Poland

Published:  18 April, 2016

Stock Spirits Group PLC has announced today that chief executive officer Chris Heath will be stepping down with immediate effect to take early retirement.

The departure comes following a period of unrest at the vodka-makers after the company's largest individual shareholder, Luis Amaral, called for Heath to step down.

Earlier this month, Portuguese businessman Amaral tried to stage a coup at the London-listed company, stating that Heath did not have the skill set in order to right the company's current problems with the Polish market.

Miroslaw 'Mirek' Stachowicz, an independent non-executive director of Stock Spirits since November 2015, will serve as interim CEO until a suitable replacement is found.

David Maloney, chairman of Stock Spirits, announced today that Heath's retirement has been in the works since the beginning of the year.

He said: "The Board and Nomination Committee have been discussing executive succession plans for several months and I appointed an international search firm in early February this year to help identify a new CEO. I also discussed this directly with Chris.

"Our plan was to ensure that we had a new Polish managing director in place before initiating any other changes to avoid further uncertainty. We were delighted to announce the appointment of Marek Sypek as managing director of Poland last week.

But Western Gate's actions have clearly interrupted our careful planning and so we decided to accelerate the CEO process."

For the past few weeks, Western Gate - which represents the office of Amaral - has been calling for the appointment of two non-executive directors to its board amid concerns over the group's strategy to turn round its Polish operations.

Today, Amaral said: "We welcome the retirement of Chris Heath and strongly support the appointments of Mirek Stachowicz as interim CEO and Marek Sypek as the new Polish managing director. The new team must address the core issues the business faces - the loss of market share in Poland and the very high corporate costs, which accounted for 31% of the company's reported FY15 EBITDA and which we believe are mainly comprised of the UK head office costs where the company has no major revenue generating operations.

"Whilst M&A should rightly form part of the company's future, for now, we would like to see management focus on addressing the very serious concerns we have highlighted."

Chris Heath, 55, joined Stock Spirits in 2007 as chief financial officer and was appointed group CEO in 2009.

He was previously group chief financial officer and commercial director of Gondola Holdings plc.

Following the announcement, Heath said: "Stock Spirits is a great company with excellent brands and some extremely talented people who I have been privileged to work with.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my eight years with the company and seeing it grow into the established, publicly listed business it is today. We created some amazing award winning brands, supported by world-class production facilities and an outstanding distribution network.

"The board and I have been reviewing group succession plans for some time and we felt that now was the right time for a change of leadership. I am now very much looking forward to spending more time with my family and friends and wish the company every success going forward."