Northgate chair leaves amid activist investor attack

Darlington-based commercial vehicle hire company Northgate Plc said on Thursday that its non-executive chairman Andrew Page — currently under attack from activist shareholder Crystal Amber — will step down with immediate effect. 

Bill Spencer, currently Northgate’s senior independent director, will assume the role of interim non-executive chairman until a successor is found.

Spencer said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to express our thanks to Andrew.

“He has run the board with immense skill, playing a pivotal role in rebuilding the foundations of Northgate and steering the company through a period of strategic change.

“His significant contributions include strengthening the board, appointing a new executive management team and overseeing the implementation of a revitalised strategy.

“Throughout Andrew’s tenure the company has benefitted from his wise counsel.

“The board remains fully supportive of the executive management team and the strategy in place.”

Activist investor Crystal Amber on March 11 called for a shareholders’ meeting at Northgate to remove Page from the board and appoint former Northgate CEO Steve Smith to the board as a non-executive director. 

Crystal Amber is Northgate’s fourth-largest shareholder, with 6.5% of the company’s issued share capital.

On March 11, Crystal Amber said: “The fund believes that Mr Page has been the principal driver of Northgate Group’s lacklustre performance, both operationally and in generating value for shareholders, since he became chairman in September 2015.”

Richard Bernstein, investment adviser to Crystal Amber Fund, said on March 11: “In the 11 years since the fund was established, this is only the second time that we have felt compelled to requisition a general meeting of an investee company to change its board.

“We have attempted to engage repeatedly and constructively with the Northgate board as a major shareholder since 2016.

“We have finally lost patience with Mr Page’s refusal to listen to positive proposals to enhance shareholder value.

“He has presided over multiple profit warnings, a culture of inept communications with the market and, in our view, has failed to ensure there is the right mix of skills and experience on the board.

“As chairman, he inherited a business with a strong market share in a healthily-growing sector, yet his tenure has left the company totally lacking in strategic direction and languishing in the doldrums.

“We believe that Northgate is a fundamentally good business with enviable positions in each of its markets, but it suffers from the inadequate stewardship provided by the board led by Mr Page, which is preventing it from achieving its true potential.”