Business Irish

Sunday 21 January 2018

Rain-lashed AGM sees more pieces of the puzzle fall into place

Maeve Dineen

ANYBODY who enjoys making jigsaws knows the moment when the picture suddenly becomes clear.

Yesterday, after a battle lasting years, the picture finally started to become clear for Independent News & Media -- the publisher of this newspaper.

The annual shareholder meeting saw a manifesto of sorts from the company's largest shareholder. In an unprecedented move for any corporate business, the old board was almost entirely wiped out, with both the chairman and the chief financial officer voted off and three other board members either retiring or resigning.

But the fact that newly appointed chief executive Vincent Crowley remains at the helm suggests some continuity will remain.

Mr Crowley is a veteran INM man who understands the business from top to bottom.

We don't know who will serve on the board beside Mr O'Brien's nominees, which means some parts of the puzzle are incomplete, but the big picture suggests we will see an old hand seeking to cut costs and sell assets.

Denis O'Brien's representative made it clear yesterday that some drastic restructuring lies ahead. There were also hints from Mr Crowley that asset disposals are on the way.

But while many expected blood on the carpet at yesterday's rain-sodden shareholder meeting, there was little more excitement than you'd find at the average IFA meeting.

Neither Denis O'Brien or Dermot Desmond turned up -- sending representatives instead.

Many shareholders were a lot more interested in the sort of mundane questions that are the bread and butter of most company AGMs across the world. When will a dividend be paid? What can be done to raise the share price? What will happen to the pension scheme? And when will the main shareholders stop bickering and get back to the job at hand -- running a newspaper business? That's when the jigsaw will finally be complete.

Irish Independent

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