'Who will back a horse without a jockey?': Johnston Press under fire from second biggest shareholder seeking to oust chair

Rebecca Smith
A boardroom battle is brewing at Johnson Press
A boardroom battle is brewing at Johnson Press (Source: Getty)

The second largest investor in Johnston Press, hoping to oust its chair, has criticised the board as failing to represent shareholders, and saying "they just take out the fees".

Christen Ager-Hanssen, whose private equity firm Custos owns the Swedish Metro newspaper, plans to seek an extraordinary general meeting of Johnston Press shareholders to oust chair Camilla Rhodes, on Thursday.

Read more: Johnston Press share price rises though profits continue to decline

Ager-Hanssen told City A.M. he had support from both shareholders and staff, and was confident the resolution will secure sufficient support. "Who will back a horse without a jockey?" he said.

The businessman wants to install himself at the head of the board to kick start a shake-up at the newspaper publisher. He has been speaking to shareholders including Richard Bernstein, head of the Crystal Amber activist fund, which is Johnston Press' biggest shareholder.

In May, Crystal Amber criticised the firm's remuneration policy and performance share plan proposals at Johnston Press' annual general meeting, with Bernstein saying an "all hands on deck approach" should be adopted, rather than thinking about bonuses. "Bonuses should be based on success," he added.

Today, Ager-Hanssen said: "What this company clearly needs is to move all its energy into creating the digital ecosystem of tomorrow. You can never cost cut yourself out of a problem. You need to grow."

He thinks the company needs to optimise the existing digital assets, and "reposition the offering towards advertisers by offering definitive marketing prowess", setting up "substantial transactional processes in new and sustainable branches of business".

Ager Hanssen's investment fund Custos previously outlined plans to refinance the firm's £220m bond debt.

Johnston Press has been working with advisers in its own restructuring effort, with the debt due for repayment in June 2019. Last week, the firm said it was in talks with bondholders about the potential formation of an ad hoc committee as part of the company's ongoing strategic review.

Johnston Press' chief executive Ashley Highfield said at the time that the firm was making "good progress" on its strategic review, and the bondholder talks marked "an important step in moving things forward".

Johnston Press could not be reached for comment.

Read more: Ouch. Johnston Press gets walloped by biggest shareholder at its AGM

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