First Group’s chairman has resigned despite defeating an attempt by activist investor Coast Capital to oust him from the board.
Wolfhart Hauser has stepped down and will not stand for re-election at the company’s next annual shareholder meeting.
Around one in four shareholders, excluding Coast, voted against the New York Hedge fund’s 13 resolutions, Press Association reported.
Coast, which owns a near 10 per cent stake in First, had been agitating for a radical restructuring of the company.
The hedge fund’s demands included splitting First’s UK assets from its US assets, withdrawing from Britain’s railways and removing six board members including Hauser and chief executive Matthew Gregory.
In total, 29.3 per cent of votes were in favour of removing Hauser as a director and 24.15 in favour of Gregory’s dismissal.
In a statement this afternoon First Group said: “The board also notes that more than 20 per cent of shareholders voted in favour of several resolutions against the Board’s recommendation.
“The board takes seriously its responsibility to understand shareholders’ opinions and will continue to engage with our investors over the coming weeks to discuss any views they may have, as reflected in the votes on those resolutions, as part of its ongoing programme of engagement. “
Hauser said: “Having renewed the Board through the appointment of independent directors with a diverse range of skills and expertise focused on the future of mobility services and overseen the appointment of Matthew Gregory as chief executive and Ryan Mangold as chief financial officer to drive delivery of the strategy, it is now time for me to move on.
“I am confident that the clear path forward laid out for the group in our strategy announcement on 30 May is the best way to deliver enhanced sustainable value to all shareholders, and that the board and management team will execute these plans at pace.”
David Robbie, senior independent director, will step in as interim chairman of the board.
Yesterday it was reported that Schroders and Columbia Threadneedle intended to support Coast in this afternoon’s vote.
In a letter to shareholders this morning Coast accused First of telling some shareholders that “everything is for sale at the right price”.
The company also alleged that First was exploring the sale of its First Student division with private equity investors, including discussing indicative pricing.
“Such news, if true, would run counter to the company’s publicly stated strategy and would appear to be material non-public information in nature,” the letter said.
“It would also amount to highly selective distribution of information among shareholders.”
However, First denied the accusations and branded the allegations “desperate and spurious”.