Chief credited with turning around Optare to step down

YORKSHIRE bus-maker Optare is looking for a new chief executive after Jim Sumner said he is leaving to take up another turnaround opportunity.

The bus firm said Mr Sumner will be replaced on an interim basis by Ashok Leyland’s head of international business Per Gustav Nilsson and Optare’s chief technical officer Glenn Saint as deputy CEO when he leaves at the end of the year.

The listed company is 75.1 per cent owned by Indian bus and engine giant Ashok Leyland.

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Mr Sumner joined in June 2009 as Optare struggled with problems including production delays, soaring costs, rising debt, withdrawal of trade credit insurance and falling spending by bus operators.

His three-year turnaround saw Optare move to new headquarters in Sherburn-in-Elmet. The new 140,000 sq ft manufacturing site and warehouse brought together operations, previously carried out in Rotherham, Crossgates in Leeds, and Blackburn, under one roof, with the potential to double manufacturing capacity to 1,200 buses a year.

Last December Ashok Leyland, which is part of the Hinduja Group, took three quarters of the company in return for a refinancing, after Optare’s attempts to access bank finance failed.

“I believe that this is the right time for me to step down from the board having substantially completed the turnaround objectives we set out to achieve and also in securing Optare’s long-term future as part of Ashok Leyland,” said Mr Sumner.

“I am very proud of what has been achieved in moving from three factories to a new lower-cost assembly facility, in re-positioning the business and establishing market leadership in low-carbon single deck buses, in putting the first electric buses into operation in the UK, in winning our largest ever export order with the South Africa contract, in significantly increasing revenues this year and in substantially improving our financial performance”.

Mr Sumner said he plans to remain in the north and work on other industrial turnarounds, and is talking to a number of private equity and restructuring firms.

“People have their skill set and mine is getting things turned around,” he said.

“There are quite a few situations where my skills could be of benefit. It’s probably a measure of where we are economically that there does appear to be a rise again in companies that look like they might struggle again.”

Chairman John Fickling added: “He has done an outstanding job in turning the business around from what was an extremely difficult position back in June 2009.

“We sincerely thank him for his unwavering leadership, clear direction and total dedication.”

Optare’s electric Versa bus is shortlisted for the innovation award at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ annual dinner later this month.