Profile: Can Bob the Builder FD fix it?

There can’t be many worse situations for a finance director. There’s a ‘difficult’ trading year ahead, the share price has just nose dived and the board, in its wisdom, has just decided to sack the chief executive who, by the way, used to be an FD too.

It’s none too pleasant, but that’s the position Steve Ruffini, FD at HIT Entertainment finds himself in. You may not care too much about the future of HIT – but your kids would. HIT are the proud owners of every child’s favourite construction worker Bob the Builder and their preferred paleolithic pet Barney the Dinosaur. If you have little girls they may be more interested in Angelina Ballerina. The more surreal reader may prefer Pingu.

The point is that HIT has on its books some of the most valuable assets in children’s entertainment.

Those who venture to meet Ruffini at his Tottenham Court Road offices will find an American who is a well-seasoned traveller surrounded by stuffed toy replicas of the company’s biggest cartoon money earners. He’s engaging, approachable, easy going and more than willing to see the humour of grown men wandering the office corridors dressed as Pingu.

Hopefully, the cuddly toys will be something of a comfort because the uncertainty caused by the sacking of a CEO and a somewhat less than optimistic trading environment is unlikely to be good for his spirits.

Rob Lawes’ sacking as chief exec comes after a profit warning in June and as HIT prepares to launch a 24-hour digital channel in the US.

But it appears the board had little faith in Lawes’ ability to take the company forward. Indeed, Peter Orton, the company founder, chairman and now stand-in CEO, was reported in the national press as saying that HIT was now in need of someone who knew how to run TV channels and had some ’empathy’ with creative people.

City analysts were quoted as finding the decision ‘bizarre’.

That said, last week Ruffini had to present results that showed pre-tax profits down 43% on the year to the end of July on a turnover of £148m.

He calculates that a constant dollar exchange rate would have meant pre-tax profits would have fallen only 9%. Clearly an issue which would prompt a question about which currency to trade and report in.

Whoever takes over from Lawes will have a job on their hands with the new channel and someone with some experience of broadcasting or strong inside knowledge of HIT itself would be a good bet for CEO’s job. Ruffini, however, is unwilling to be drawn on whether he wants the top post and politely declined to comment.

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