UPDATE 2-Head of Ashland's water unit leaves company
* Paul Raymond, 49, had run water unit since 2008
* Spokesman says Raymond left for 'other opportunities'
* Head of specialty unit to temporarily oversee water unit
* Ashland says committed to growth in water unit
* Shares up 0.9 percent
Sept 6 (Reuters) - The head of Ashland Inc's water technology business, which brings in roughly a quarter of the chemical maker's annual sales, has left the company, it said on Thursday.
Paul Raymond, 49, had run the unit since 2008, when Ashland bought Hercules Inc. He previously worked at Honeywell International Inc and General Electric Co.
Raymond, who left Ashland on Wednesday, was not immediately available to comment.
Ashland spokesman Gary Rhodes said on Thursday that Raymond left to "pursue other opportunities."
"We appreciate his leadership at Ashland, which began with the acquisition of Hercules in 2008 and continued through a period of significant change for our company," Rhodes said.
The water technologies unit, which sells water treatment chemicals to paper producers and municipalities, accounts for nearly 25 percent of Ashland's roughly $8.3 billion in annual sales.
John Panichella, head of Ashland's specialty ingredients business, will oversee the water technologies unit on an interim basis. Panichella previously worked in GE's water unit.
The water technologies unit posted a 13 percent drop in sales for the third quarter ended June 30. "It is clear we still have a lot of work to do in getting this business to where it needs to be," executives said at the time.
Ashland remains committed to the water technologies unit, despite the challenges the business and market currently face, Rhodes said.
"We believe with the right plan and leadership in place, performance will improve," he said.
Shares of Ashland, which were up 0.9 percent at $75.28 in morning trading, have risen nearly 32 percent this year.
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