Monday 18 April 2016 8:01 am

Stock Spirits boss Chris Heath steps down over shareholder and strategy row

The chief executive of Stock Spirits group has taken "early retirement" and stepped down with immediate effect from the London-listed Polish vodka producer. 

Chris Heath, who had been at the helm of the European drinks major for seven years, had been facing calls to resign since early April. 

A large investor in the firm, Western Gate Private Investments, which is led by Portuguese retail magnate Luis Amaral, had been calling for Heath's resignation and the appointment of two non-executive directors to turn around its core Polish business

Heath's strategy had favoured mergers and acquisitions to expand into other areas of the European market such as Scandinavia. He will be replaced by an independent non-executive director, Miroslaw "Mirek" Stachowicz, until "a suitable replacement is found", the company 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 per cent 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," Amaral said on behalf of Western Gate.

"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."

Last month, the company posted a drop of around €30m (£23.4m) in revenue to €262.6m over 2015, while operating profit decreased 22.3 per cent to €41.7m. 

"2015 saw another year of disruption in the Polish market and I am personally very disappointed that we had to issue revised profit guidance in November 2015," Chris Heath said in response to the results last month.