Chris Heath joined Stock Spirits as CFO in 2007

Chris Heath joined Stock Spirits as CFO in 2007

The head of Stock Spirits, Chris Heath, has stepped down from the company, two weeks after a major shareholder called for his removal.

Heath, who has been with Stock since 2007, will take "early retirement", the group confirmed today. He will be replaced by non-executive director Miroslaw Stachowicz on an interim basis, after Stock started a search for a new CEO in early February.

Heath's departure, at the age of 55, takes immediate effect.

Today's announcement comes two weeks after Western Gate Private Investments, which has a 9.7% holding in Stock, queried the company's performance and called for Heath to be removed. Western Gate was joined last week by another shareholder, Templeton Emerging Markets Group, in demanding that Heath be stood down.

Chairman David Maloney said: "The board and nomination committee have been discussing executive succession plans for several months and I appointed an international search firm in early February this year to help identify a new CEO. I also discussed this directly with Chris.

"Western Gate's actions have clearly interrupted our careful planning and so we decided to accelerate the CEO process."

Appointed CFO in 2007, Heath became group CEO in 2009. He oversaw Stock's IPO in 2013, although the company has struggled in its biggest market, Poland, since the introduction of a 15% rise in excise on spirits in the country, in early-2014. Stock subsequently issued a profit warning late last year, although in a trading update on Thursday, Stock said its group sales in the three months to the end of March jumped by 29%.

For a just-drinks interview with Stock Spirits CEO Chris Heath, click here

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my eight years with the company and seeing it grow into the established, publicly listed business it is today," said Heath. "The board and I have been reviewing group succession plans for some time and we felt that now was the right time for a change of leadership.

"I … wish the company every success going forward."