Stobart plans to ‘unify’ investors with ‘new chairman’

Carlisle-based Stobart Group — consumed by a lengthy and ongoing boardroom battle — has unveiled proposals which it claims will “seek to unify the interests of shareholders and to provide the framework for the delivery of the company’s strategy to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

Stobart Group said its plan will “result in a refreshed and strengthened board, led by a new independent chairman and a new senior independent director” by “no later than the 2019 AGM.”

The battle for control of the board at the aviation, energy and transport firm, which employs more than 1,000 people, came to a head at its AGM last Friday when former CEO Andrew Tinkler failed narrowly in his effort to oust current chairman Iain Ferguson.

And, despite 51.4% of shareholders supporting an impromptu AGM motion to elect Tinkler to the board, Stobart Group’s other directors then voted to remove him.

Further, Stobart Group’s chief financial officer Richard Laycock resigned shortly before the AGM.

Stobart Group said its new plan also involves working “with all shareholders” to “strengthen” the company’s shareholder base to include additional long-term shareholders.

The firm said it “has already been contacted by one such party interested in making a significant investment in the company.”

Stobart Group added: “The board will actively explore other options.

“Specifically, the board will make a proposal for Andrew Tinkler’s shareholding as soon as practicable.”

Currently, Stobart Group’s biggest shareholders include Invesco Asset Management with 25.32% of shares, Woodford Investment Management with 19.94%, “directors and related” with 8%, M&G Investment with 5.38% and Milton Asset Management with 3.18%, according to the firm’s website.

In a stock exchange statement, Stobart Group set out what it calls “a focused and ambitious strategy to double the value of the business by 2022 …

“The board firmly believes it has the right management team in place to work toward the goals of welcoming five million passengers annually at London Southend Airport, delivering three million tonnes of biomass each year and securing even more third-party civil engineering contracts by that time.

“The board believes the management team can only operate effectively within a stable framework of strong corporate governance focused on protecting the interests of all shareholders. 

“Accordingly, the board is setting out its proposals to seek to unify the interests of shareholders and to provide the framework for the delivery of the company’s strategy to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

In its statement, Stobart Group said it will appoint a leading independent search firm to undertake a “thorough and rigorous process to identify suitably qualified and independent persons to be appointed as non-executive chairman, as senior independent director and one or more additional non-executive directors.”

It said “significant shareholders” will be consulted as part of this process and encouraged to suggest suitable candidates. 

“The search will be conducted around agreed parameters of high-quality corporate governance and independence and the intention would be to appoint at least one female director,” said Stobart.

“As previously announced, the company has already identified a female candidate.”

The statement continued: “The board has also commenced an executive search to find a suitable interim replacement as chief financial officer for Richard Laycock, following his stepping down from the board on 5 July 2018 …

“These changes will result in a refreshed and strengthened board, led by a new independent chairman and a new senior independent director. 

“The process will start immediately, and all appointments will be made no later than the 2019 AGM …”

Stobart Group concluded: “The board takes very seriously the concerns raised by certain employees in the last few weeks regarding alleged bullying and whistleblowing. 

“The board will immediately appoint an independent firm to investigate these matters …

“The board will commence discussions with major stakeholders over coming days, and further announcements will be made in due course.”

Iain Ferguson, current chairman, Stobart Group said: “The last few weeks have been incredibly challenging for all who are involved with Stobart Group. 

“Following the receipt of shareholder support for all directors at the AGM, the board is now seeking to re-unite stakeholders through these proposals which it hopes will obtain widespread support and avoid further unnecessary and disruptive public argument. 

“We look forward to maintaining a strong independent platform for Warwick Brady and the management team to take forward the agreed strategy and deliver outstanding returns for all shareholders.”