Business round up

• Thorn UK, one of Britain’s largest electrical retailers, has appointed The Prolog Group to manage its payroll and HR functions. Thorn, which owns Radio Rentals and employs 6,000 people, outsourced the activity to reduce internal staffing and premises costs. Additional efficiency gains are also predicted – Thorn expects to save money by not having to worry about legislation and changes in IT. Prolog won the contract in December 1999 after a three-month trawl for potential suppliers. It will manage all aspects of Thorn’s payroll processes including P11D administration, liaison with the Inland Revenue and the distribution of payslips and management reporting. Thorn’s HR department will benefit from complimentary administration services provided by Prolog.

Deal aids US expansion

• Gas supplier Centrica has announced it has agreed to acquire North America’s largest unregulated natural gas supplier Direct Energy as part of its international expansion programme. The deal has the unanimous recommendation of Direct Energy will be funded from Centrica’s existing cash resources and debt facilities. Centrica chief executive Roy Gardner said the acquisition would provide a platform for the company’s growth in the US. Analysts said the move would allow Centrica to expand abroad while its British market remained static.

Aston aims for profit

• The former engineering chief of the insolvent South Korean car maker Daewoo has been appointed head of luxury car manufacturer Aston Martin. Ulrich Bez, Daewoo’s engineering chief from 1993-98, will be chairman and chief executive of the Ford subsidiary. He has been charged with returning Aston Martin to profit – it made pre-tax losses of £6.2m on sales of £56.8m in 1998. He is expected to introduce a third model line at Aston Martin’s Buckinghamshire HQ to lift sales to 3,000 a year. In 1999, it sold 651 cars, with 800 expected this year.

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