Tuesday 20 August 2019

Activist investor formally demands boardroom shake-up at Johnston Press

Christen Ager-Hanssen, who holds a 20% stake in Johnston, has called for a shareholder meeting to appoint Alex Salmond as part of a management shake-up.

The Scotsman
The Scotsman

By Holly Williams, Press Association Deputy City Editor

The biggest shareholder in The Scotsman owner Johnston Press has formally called for former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond to be appointed to the board and for two directors to be ousted.

Christen Ager-Hanssen, whose Custos Group holds a 20% stake in Johnston, has written to Johnston asking for a general meeting where shareholders will vote on the proposed removal of chairman Camilla Rhodes and non-executive director Michael Butterworth.

The Norwegian activist investor wants to replace them with former First Minister Mr Salmond and Steve Auckland, who previously ran regional newspaper group Local World, to spearhead a shake-up of Johnston.

In the meantime, Johnston should also not be allowed to appoint any new directors before the shareholder meeting, according to Custos.

Alex Salmond

Johnston Press – which also owns the i newspaper, the Yorkshire Post and some 200 local titles – said it was “consulting with its advisers” and will update on the timing of the meeting.

It also asked investors to take “no action at this time”.

But a source close to the firm said: “The company is in the midst of a complex and important refinancing and we have the momentum with the established team to ensure further progress with the strategic review and ensure a good outcome.

“Despite dozens of tweets and interviews, Custos has not yet produced a coherent strategy or plan, which would be good to see.”

Shares in Johnston Press rose 8% after it confirmed the shareholder meeting request.

It now has 21 days to send shareholders notice of a forthcoming meeting. The meeting must then be held within 28 days.

Johnston has struggled under a debt burden and plunging print advertising revenues across the industry.

But the i newspaper – which it bought from the owners of the Independent for £24 million in April last year – has been helping offset ongoing tough conditions for its traditional titles.

In September, it reported sharply narrowed half-year losses, to £10.2 million from £184 million a year earlier.

However, total revenue still fell 3.1% to £102.9 million, amid a drop in classified sales.

Mr Ager-Hanssen, who owns the Swedish version of the Metro free newspaper, had already attempted to appoint four directors to Johnston’s board last month, but the move was blocked by debt agreements stipulating that only existing board members can approve new director appointments.

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