Walker Has His Work Cut out to Rebuild Confidence in Widget Plc

Article excerpt

Despite a doubling of earnings since 1992 and brokers expecting the trend to continue, McKechnie's shares haven't done anyone any great favours over the last few years, but in the engineering sector, that's not too bad a review.

Andrew Walker, the new chief executive at the specialist engineering and plastics group, reckons the group is a success. He was given the job when long-serving boss Michael Ost decided to quit in January, after 10 years in charge.

When Ost took over, McKechnie was the archetypal West Midlands metal-basher, concentrating on brass extrusions and selling largely in the UK. Now 10 years on, it supplies specialised parts to its blue-chip clients around the world.

McKechnie's extensive range of seemingly humdrum products - it's the world leader in the supply of plastic wheel trims for cars, and makes the plastic part that provides the draught effect in cans of Guinness - have earned it the nickname Widget plc. But that earnings record speaks for itself.

So, Walker has his work cut out. Given that his previous job was running Welsh electricity utility SWALEC, until it was swallowed up by Welsh Water in 1995, his qualifications may seem a bit light. But he also had a stint in charge of the polymer engineering division of aerospace engineer Dowry, now part of TI Group. And the animated way in which he describes how McKechnie's engineers invented a new way for shaping metal hoses on cars, suggests that engineering is still very much his first passion.

Clearly, there is no call for a radical change in direction. Since taking over in March, Walker has visited every one of McKechnie's 50 operating units. On the whole, he is impressed, praising McKechnie's strong financial controls and well-invested facilities. …