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Ocado shares fall and recover on director’s exit

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Shares in online grocer Ocado today fell sharply in early trading after it announced the surprise departure of its finance director, although they later staged a recovery.

The company said Andrew Bracey would leave in April 2012, following the completion of the company’s annual report process and year-end audit, in order to join recruitment company Michael Page International. The search for his replacement has begun.

With the news, Ocado announced a shake-up to its board with immediate effect that Ocado chairman Michael Grade said would give chief executive Tim Steiner “greater freedom to drive Ocado’s strategy forward.”

The changes see Ocado co-founder and executive director Jason Gissing take on the new role of commercial director, leading its retail activities, including buying, supplier and customer relationships, marketing and brand development.

Grade said: “Jason Gissing is one of the co-founders of the business and has been a critical member of the executive team. In his new role he will be at the heart of our retail development as we look to increase the reach and profitability of the business.”

Mark Richardson, previously its head of technology, now becomes operations director and Neill Abrams, director of legal and business affairs takes on Gissing’s previous HR responsibilities. Wendy Becker, previously group chief marketing officer at Vodafone and managing director of TalkTalk Telecom, joins as an independent non-executive director on March 1.

Bracey said the decision to leave was a tough one, and came in response to a “great opportunity” – but that he would be keeping his shareholding in Ocado. “I am certain that Ocado will demonstrate what we all believe that it is a business with great prospects and an exciting growth trajectory,” he said.

Ocado shares opened at 85.0p and fell to 80.74p this morning before recovering to 87.50p at lunchtime.

Our view: Investors seem unsure exactly what to make of Ocado at the moment. Now that it’s no longer easily classified as Waitrose’s online delivery service, since Waitrose started doing its own deliveries and turned Ocado from colleague to competition, the company has put the emphasis on the brands it delivers, including its own-brand items and on the service it has to offer. Investors will be waiting to see if that and continued innovation in its use of technology can make the difference for the company’s future prospects.

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