Engineering group ABB chief executive Fred Kindle quit yesterday in a shock move after a clash over strategy amid speculation over his plans for acquisitions.
The Swiss company, with extensive interests across the West Midlands, also announced a share buyback programme worth up to £1 billion and doubled its dividend, announcing results a day early to beat even the most optimistic estimates, partly due to tax benefits.
"Fred Kindle is leaving due to irreconcilable differences of opinion about how to lead the company," the group said in a statement.
Chief financial officer Michel Demare will serve as interim chief executive.
Analysts at Citibank in a note to clients said: "Fred Kindle is probably the most successful CEO in ABB's history and for him to resign during ABB's most successful trading period will be a shock to the market."
Mr Kindle was admired by analysts for restoring growth and stability to a global group that was on the brink of collapse due to heavy debt. "We had a high level of confidence that Kindle would make the right decisions on acquisitions and his departure now creates substantial uncertainty," said analysts at bank JP Morgan.
Investors have long sought clues as to how ABB, which is benefiting from a boom in electricity generation, plans to spend cash reserves as speculation mounts about plans to grow through acquisitions.
Mr Kindle has long held that large takeovers were not on the cards, in part due to the high price of assets, and analysts have speculated the group would target bolt-on buys instead.
ABB's fourth-quarter net profit rose to £916 million as it benefited from a positive impact from tax assets and from Europe and the US replacing ageing systems and developing countries investing in power infrastructure.