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In a big shakeup in the exhibition world, Millard Ochs is quitting United Cinemas Intl. and reportedly will take charge of its arch rival, Warner Bros. Intl. Theaters.

UCI said Friday that Ochs is leaving as chief operating officer of the England-based company to return to the U.S. to spend more time with his family.

But several sources said Ochs has been recruited by Warner as heir apparent to WB Intl. Theaters veteran president Salah Hassanein.

The move surprised UCI exex who had expected Ochs to be anointed CEO July 1 or soon after.

Ochs appeared destined for that slot after incumbent Charles Wesoky announced several months ago that he would depart June 30, in part in disagreement with the UCI board’s decision to move its head office from London to provincial Manchester.

Ochs, an American, has had a trying domestic situation since his wife decided to return to Minneapolis two years ago. Both have had to commute frequently.

There was thus a double attraction for him in accepting Warner’s offer to take control of the company’s international cinema empire from Hassanein in L.A.

WB sources say Hassanein has been looking to hand over the reins after establishing the WB Theaters banner in Japan, the U.K., Germany and other markets. Hassanein did not return calls Friday.

The exit of Ochs and Wesoky, who both arrived in the U.K. in the early 1980s, initially to pioneer multiplexes for American Multi-Cinemas, leaves a leadership vacuum at UCI.

But the Paramount and Universal-owned company has well-established management in place at its subsids in the U.K., Germany/Austria and Spain. It may be that the local managing directors will report to UCI’s board in L.A., without a CEO.

Restructuring expected

Ian Riches, UCI’s U.K. topper, said he expected a restructuring would be announced soon.

He described the loss of Ochs as a “blow,” noting that he and Wesoky had built up the company from scratch. “We will carry on the good work they started with the same philosophy,” Riches said.

Some UCI exex welcomed Ochs’ appointment at WB for one reason: They believe that, unlike the Hassanein regime, he will avoid building multiplexes close to UCI, which has diminished profits for both companies.