Chairman rejects claims that he helped 'oust' O'Brien lieutenant
The chairman of Independent News and Media, Brian Hillery, came out fighting yesterday, fiercely rejecting accusations he was part of a conspiracy to oust Leslie Buckley, a lieutenant of Denis O'Brien, from the company board at its AGM on Friday.
Following his shock ejection from the board, Mr Buckley launched a stinging attack on the CEO of INM, Gavin O'Reilly, and surprisingly also on the chairman, Mr Hillery.
He accused Mr O'Reilly of canvassing company shareholders against his re-election, and accused Mr Hillery of being aware of the plot.
Rejecting the accusations, Mr Hillery told the Sunday Independent: "I am especially disappointed with the completely unfounded comments, not only on me, but on the position of chairman."
He added: "I have, for the last number of years, endeavoured, despite all other obvious tensions, to bring harmony to the board of INM."
In his statement, Mr Buckley said: "However, it now appears that the CEO, in the meantime, was actively canvassing company shareholders to vote against my re-election.
"This is bizarre behaviour to say the least, on the part of the chief executive and a board member of the publicly listed company he presides over. I have no doubt that the chairman was aware of this activity, yet declined to stop it. I believe that both the CEO and chairman should now consider their positions."
Mr O'Reilly yesterday told the Sunday Independent that he was appalled by the attack on the position of chairman.
"Whilst I am well able to deal with the slings and arrows from the O'Brien side, the attack on the chairman was particularly nefarious, given how hard Brian has worked to bring harmony to the board of INM," he said.
"There was a cabal on the board who felt their minority position should take precedence over the majority of the board and over the expressed wishes of the vast majority of INM shareholders."
Referring directly to Mr Buckley, he said: "He is upset, but Leslie was attempting to have the last word, which was somewhat unbecoming."
Mr O'Reilly said the AGM drama was a sideshow and the board was committed to driving the company forward. "Life goes on," he said.
Mr Buckley was voted off the board after 58 per cent of shareholders chose not to re-elect him. The last time shareholders of an Irish plc ousted a company director was 10 years ago.
Proxy advisors moved against Mr Buckley after he and the two other Denis O'Brien directors informed Mr Hillery that they would not be approving the directors' report and financial statements.
The O'Brien directors said the independence of fellow director Bengt Braun was in question given his involvement with Wan-Ifra, a newspaper trade association, of which Mr O'Reilly is outgoing president.
In response to the criticisms of the company made by financier Dermot Desmond, Mr O'Reilly said he was delighted to hear that Mr Desmond's investments in INM were based on value and not on ancillary matters. Mr O'Reilly, when asked, refused to be drawn on what ancillary matters he was referring to.