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PDL strengthens Australian presence

By Chris Hutching

Friday 4th August 2000

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Listed Christchurch company PDL Holdings' annual profit result reveals some problems with the company's second foray into Australia but managing director Mark Stewart is pushing ahead with plans to establish the commercial hub of the company there.

Mr Stewart took over the reins at PDL from his father Sir Robertson Stewart a couple of years ago and has spearheaded the Australian move while replacing key staff in the organisation with his own appointees. Shareholders at the annual meeting on August 24 will also learn of significant changes to the board of directors, driven by market concerns about governance.

While the pre-tax and pre-abnormals operating surplus for the year to June 2000 was $16.5 million, up from $12 million last year, interest costs and higher tax rates of about 45% relating to Australian operations reduced the overall surplus to $4.5 million compared with a $1.1 million loss last year.

An interim dividend of 10c a share was paid in March but the company will not be paying a final dividend because of high capital commitments in the current year.

The extent of the effect of restructuring on interest payments and costs in Australia is not clearly spelled out in the PDL accounts but they arise from the higher company taxes over the Tasman and interest payments relating to reorganising operations there.

In response, Mr Stewart has appointed a general manager electrical products, Peter Cave, to oversee sales and operations from a base in Melbourne where PDL has 25 staff.

A second general manger, David O'Donoghue who heads PDL Napier, has been appointed group general manager electronics in Christchurch.

The Australian appointment is most significant because it is where Mr Stewart sees PDL's main sales in the future. He said the commercial hub of the company needed to be based in Australia where its biggest target market will be.

Meanwhile, long-serving director and lawyer Paul Mortlock, who is a Stewart family appointee, will remain a director but step down from the chairmanship at the annual meeting in favour of incoming independent director Warren Bell, known for his chairmanship of Hallenstein Glasson.

The news was received positively by brokers who have confidence Mr Bell "will stand for no nonsense," one broker said. Phillip Burdon was appointed to the board two years ago in an effort to provide more independent directors with proven commercial backgrounds.

Alan Shadwell who has been there for 10 years will also retire from the board.

* PDL recently announced an alliance with Vectec Electronics to develop speed drives.

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