Opinion: Leader - Chadlington proves his critics wrong

At the time of industry grandee Lord Chadlington's concert party acquisition of the then ailing Huntsworth marketing services group, there were some industry commentators who doubted that he would be able to turn the company around. It was a basket case, they said, in poor health financially and having not paid an interim dividend in over a decade.

Well 13 years to be precise. But that came to an end with his upbeat half-year results unveiled this week, so Chadlington can reflect on a job well done. As well as paying out to the shareholders who stuck with the group as he and his associates took over three years ago, Huntsworth has also nudged the operating margin at its subsidiary firms up closer to its 20 per cent target. Without the negative impact of what one source described as 'the dog of a year' that key component Harrrison Cowley has had, there is every reason to imagine that the 20 per cent target would have been met.

It is not an unblemished picture - the firm still has close to £8m of earnout payments to meet on historic acquisitions, and overall revenues were down fractionally year on year. But big clients are now signing up - Heineken, Starbucks, United Biscuits - suggesting that the product offering is at least lining up with client demand.

At 0.1p, the dividend per share is hardly huge - in fact, it is as small as a dividend can be without being scrapped. But its symbolic value goes beyond immediate cash. It says the firm is being nursed back to health, costs have been cut, some significant acquisitions have been made and there is every prospect of a rosier future.

That future looks less like the immediate past than one might suppose.

Critics have long argued that the string of minnow deals Chadlington has presided over (Stephanie Churchill PR, Woodside Communications, EHPR et al) are disproportionately expensive and time-consuming, and deliver only marginal benefit to the group's finances. So expect fewer of these in the coming months and years - expect fewer deals full stop. But when the deals do happen, expect a scale that the group has not yet attempted under its current leadership.

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