SFI Group, owner of the Bar Med and Litten Tree brands, has decided to look for a group chief executive from outside the company, as its share price continues to slide.

The announcement came today alongside the news that Clive Eplett, formerly SFI's finance director and, since last September managing director of development, has left to "pursue his career elsewhere".

The company's shares dropped another 8p today to 185p, a 26% fall in the past three months and 37% down on the 12-month high of 294.5p.

In the reshuffle after Eplett's departure, Andrew Latham, managing director for retail, will now assume overall responsibility for property acquisitions and James Kowszun, the finance director, for IT.

The company said that "in the light of the growth achieved by SFI and the scale of future opportunities," the board has decided to appoint a group chief executive who will be recruited externally. It said it expected the appointment will be announced "before the end of the current financial year", that is, next May.

Tony Hill, SFI's executive chairman,

said: "I would like to thank Clive for the invaluable contribution he has made over the last ten years in SFI's transition from traditional pubs to a leading operator of high street bars.

"The board regrets but understands his decision to continue his career outside SFI and wishes him every success in the future."

In August the company posted a pre-tax profit of £16.4m on turnover of £115.2m for the year ended May 31.

However, one city analyst, Douglas Jack of WestLB Panmure, turned bearish on SFI, rating the company's shares "underperform" over fears that "the cracks are starting to appear in the company's hitherto impressive growth story".

Bar Med's average sales per outlet fell over the financial year by 7.9%, confirming concerns over its market positioning, Jack said. The balance sheet was becoming stretched, with gearing at 125% and another acquisition and fundraising seem likely, he said.