How Prime Minister’s poster child for British industry lost its managing director

Chris Rea
Chris Rea
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AS A poster child for British manufacturing, Surgical Innovations was visited by Prime Minister David Cameron in his first week in office.

But the public company has since suffered a series of misfortunes and this week saw the resignation of its interim managing director Chris Rea.

He quit with immediate effect and announced his intention to stand down as a non-executive director.

The company’s finance director, Melanie Ross, also announced her resignation after just two months in the role but will serve as interim MD until April.

Mr Rea, a highly driven entrepreneur, created one of the region’s most successful engineering businesses in AESSEAL, the Rotherham-based mechanical seals maker.

He took a £1.6m stake in Surgical Innovations in June 2014, describing the medical equipment manufacturer as “an extremely innovative business in a very interesting space”.

The company previously enjoyed much positive publicity, culminating in visits from Mr Cameron and Princess Anne, and had been awarded a £5m Government grant to develop a state-of-the-art clinical training centre in Leeds.

After Mr Rea’s arrival, Surgical Innovations issued a profits warning, tore up plans for the centre and parted company with the high-profile chief executive Graham Bowland.

Mr Rea took over as interim managing director in October 2014.

In May, the company reported a pre-tax loss of nearly £10m for 2014 amid “severe challenges” in its US market. In comparison, its annual sales were £4m.

In a statement for The Yorkshire Post, Mr Rea said: “I have become very emotionally involved with the business, which in my view has a great group of people and the business, with the right leadership, could return to profitability in 2017 and might have a great future thereafter.

“As a director of a public company I have a duty of care to all of the stakeholders in the business.

“The dichotomy I have is that it is my personal opinion that the company needs two things - oerational direction and finance.

“While I am able to provide both, I am not willing or able to do so any longer with Surgical Innovations Group plc remaining a public company.”

He said he resigned “with deep regret” to avoid any potential conflict of interest after the board of directors had “serious differences of opinion” about the merits of the company remaining in the public realm or moving into private ownership.

Mr Rea added: “I am competent and wealthy and if this had been a private company I would have dealt with all the issues a long time ago.”

The non-executive chairman of Surgical Innovations, Doug Liversidge, said “Chris has been instrumental in stabilising the company through a difficult period.

“In particular he has made a substantial contribution to product development. He has worked tirelessly in the best interests of the company alongside his other commitments and we acknowledge the pressures and frustrations that he has experienced over recent months which have led to this decision.

“Melanie has also made, and will continue to make, a valuable contribution to the stabilisation of the company.”

Last month, Surgical Innovations said it had moved into the second phase of recovery and had recommenced product development.

Mr Liversidge told The Yorkshire Post: “I’m a pretty resilient guy. I still have a lot of belief in Surgical Innovations. It is a very good company with some absolutely brilliant people. I have to find the right leader for the company, which I’m in the process of trying to do.”

Cameron’s poster child for British industry

Surgical Innovations made headlines after bringing manufacturing back to Britain.

As a symbol of resurgent northern industry, David Cameron chose to visit the company soon after becoming Prime Minister in 2010.

Chairman Doug Liversidge is a prominent Sheffield businessman and a former Master Cutler whose wife Pam made headlines of her own when she became the first woman to head the historic Company of Cutlers.

Chris Rea, who holds a 14 per cent stake in Surgical Innovations, is one of Yorkshire’s most successful entrepreneurs.

His company AESSEAL has recorded 32 years of consecutive growth.