Monday 26 July 2021 10:10 am

Coast Capital launches bid to oust First Group boss

Coast Capital has this morning reignited its ongoing battle with First Group by calling for the resignation of the FTSE 250 firm’s chief executive Matthew Gregory, along with two other board members.

The New York-based firm, which owns about 14 per cent of First Group, has been locked in a series of skirmishes with the company for years.

Today, it said that Gregory, who became chief executive in 2018, should “resign and be replaced by a CEO of industry competency, as soon as possible”.

Coast Capital added that board members Julia Steyn and Warwick Brady should also tender their resignations.

It said that Brady’s eight year tenure has “had no positive material impact on the company”.

The attack comes after First Group sold its US assets to Scandinavian fund EQT, despite fierce opposition from Coast.

The deal closed last week after 61 per cent of investors at a meeting in May voted for the $4.5bn sale. First Group then boosted shareholder returns by 37 per cent to £500m, using a portion of the proceeds from the sale.

Although it had long pushed for the firm to sell First Transit and First Student, Coast said that the deal was a “most imprudent business decision” and proposed alternatives.

Today Coast was particularly critical of Steyn’s role in the sale, saying she “consistently turned a blind eye to the board’s fiduciary shortcomings and breaches and has demonstrated no independence of thought”.

“We note that Ms. Steyn did not vocally advocate the securing of a fairness opinion before voting to sell FGP’s prized North American assets at a discount to book value.

“As a result, there was a decline in share value. Furthermore, the disposal of North American operations means that her background is no longer required by First Group, and it would be prudent to replace her with an expert in UK transportation.”

A First Group spokesperson said: “The successful sale of First Student and First Transit achieved a full strategic value that looks beyond the pandemic.

“The transaction, now approved by a majority of shareholders, enables the Group to return £500m of value to all shareholders, address its long-standing liabilities and make a substantial contribution to the pension scheme deficits. 

“We consistently engage on a variety of topics with all our major shareholders. We have carefully considered Coast Capital’s various outline and initial ideas for the business over time.”

Shares in the firm fell 0.5 per cent today.