Resignation of CEO lets Ashurst refocus First profit expected by next year as firm streamlines emphasis

December 11, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

The abrupt departure on Tuesday of Ashurst Technology Ltd. founder and Chairman Benton H. Wilcoxon will help the company focus on becoming profitable by next year, a senior manager said yesterday.

Did Wilcoxon leave voluntarily? "I've got no comment," said Executive Vice President Stephen Meldrum, who then reconsidered and added, "It was voluntary, though. I would say voluntary."

Meldrum and other executives did not comment Tuesday when the sudden resignation was announced, but said yesterday that they had simply been too busy dealing with the situation to return phone calls.

Wilcoxon could not be reached for comment Tuesday or yesterday.

Meldrum declined to provide details about the departure, other than to say that it was related to a desire to reorganize the company and put more emphasis on certain lines of business.

Ashurst is looking for commercial applications for former Soviet technology, and has an interest in several mines in Ukraine.

Paying for that development has drained finances. Ashurst posted a loss of $2.9 million for the second quarter of 1997 on revenue of $1.1 million, and cash reserves were down to $5.3 million from $17.6 million a year before.

The company has begun making money through three partnerships to market sporting goods that contain an aluminum-scandium alloy made in Ukraine. Meldrum said the company wants to concentrate on that effort.

"Over the course of the next several weeks to months the board of directors will redirect the company to concentrate the majority of time and resources on the scandium technology," said Meldrum, who along with another executive has been appointed to an "office of the president" to oversee the reorganization.

He said other pursuits will be evaluated and perhaps scaled back. "There are a number of technologies the company is working on here and in Ukraine that we are taking a look at whether or not to continue spending the research dollars," Meldrum said.

Stanley Lanzet of Lanzet Global Securities Corp. in New York, one of the few analysts to follow the little company, said that side ventures into batteries and other types of mining are probably not worth sustaining.

"I think a bit of focus was needed, and I think it's a pretty healthy change in strategy," Lanzet said.

Meldrum said the company will continue to pursue a gold mining venture in Ukraine, which had been stalled by bureaucratic snags but is beginning to move forward.

Wilcoxon, who also resigned from the board and as chief executive officer, founded the company in 1991 in Las Vegas. He then moved it to Canada, where the Toronto Stock Exchange is still its primary market.

He brought Ashurst to Relay, in south Baltimore County, last year to take advantage of a research lab being vacated by Lockheed Martin Corp. The company now has 25 workers there and 25 at its office in Kiev, Ukraine -- though it is chartered in Bermuda.

Ashurst grabbed headlines last year as the favorite company of a Deutsche Morgan Grenfell asset manager in London who was sacked for making improper investments.

Deutsche Morgan Grenfell remains Ashurst's top investor, with a 48 percent stake in the company.

Meldrum said that Deutsche Morgan Grenfell had no role in Wilcoxon's departure or the reorganization of the company.

"Mr. Wilcoxon is moving on to pursue other interests," he said, though he declined to specify them.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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