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Friday 19 October 2018

Stobart chairman in plea to shareholders amid ‘significant dispute’ with ex-boss

Iain Ferguson addressed the recent spat with former chief executive Andrew Tinkler in his speech to the infrastructure company’s AGM.

The terminal building at London Southend Airport (Chris Radburn/PA)
The terminal building at London Southend Airport (Chris Radburn/PA)

By Kalyeena Makortoff, Press Association Chief City Correspondent

Stobart chairman Iain Ferguson has told shareholders that “important principles” are at stake ahead of a contentious vote on his re-election.

In a speech prepared for the infrastructure company’s annual general meeting, he acknowledged the “significant dispute” that has gripped Stobart in recent weeks, following the sacking of Andrew Tinkler, who has been calling for Mr Ferguson’s removal.

“Regardless of the way you vote, there are hugely important principles at stake,” he told shareholders.

“This is not just about Stobart, but about how companies are run for all stakeholders – for shareholders, staff and society,” he said, stressing the need for “diversity” on the company’s board and “independence” of its directors.

Mr Tinkler has rallied against Mr Ferguson’s reappointment and was subsequently sacked last month and hit with a legal case for “breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty”.

It came after Mr Tinkler, former director Allan Jenkinson and a fund controlled by star investor Neil Woodfood began manoeuvring to install retail boss Philip Day as chairman of the firm, in Mr Ferguson’s place.

Stobart’s new chief executive, Warwick Brady, has said Mr Tinkler’s actions threatened to “destabilise the company” and “severely impact” the firm’s ability to manage the business on a day-to-day basis and deliver on its strategy.

“This is against the interests of all our shareholders,” Mr Brady said.

Instead of listening to the concerns expressed by me and a number of other significant shareholders, Mr Ferguson and his supporters on the board chose to engage in a campaign of vilification, repeatedly trying to blacken my name. A letter attributed to Andrew Tinkler

A letter addressed to shareholders on a Twitter account attributed to Mr Tinkler last week said he did not believe the Mr Ferguson was the “robust, independent chairman” needed to ensure the company “sticks to its agreed strategy and  concentrates on delivering value to shareholders.”

“Instead of listening to the concerns expressed by me and a number of other significant shareholders, Mr Ferguson and his supporters on the board chose to engage in a campaign of vilification, repeatedly trying to blacken my name whilst claiming credit for the growth achieved and for the strategy which William Stobart and I played an integral part in developing alongside the company’s management team,” the letter said.

Mr Tinkler, who had previously been up for re-election as a director of the business at the company’s AGM before his sacking, had attempted to bring a court injunction against the company to allow shareholders to vote over his reinstatement as a director on Friday.

But his efforts were rejected by a Guernsey court ahead of the meeting.

In a surprise announcement issued just hours ahead of the AGM in St Peter Port, Guernsey, the London Southend Airport owner said its finance chief, Richard Laycock, was resigning.

“Richard Laycock has decided to step down as its chief financial officer and executive director and will not be putting himself forward for election at the AGM, but will continue to support the Stobart Group business.”

An executive search will be launched as soon as possible.

As part of its pre-AGM market update, Stobart said its energy division had performed well, logging a 54% rise in tonnages year on year thanks to new contracts coming online.

Its infrastructure division, meanwhile, generated £25.5 million in cash following the successful sale and leaseback of properties and land at its Widnes site.

“Further non-operating asset disposals are being pursued,” the company said.

The disposals are part of a wider strategy meant to boost its dividend.

Stobart confirmed a 4.5p per share dividend would be paid out to shareholders on Friday, taking its total dividend for the year to 18p per share.

Press Association

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