Noel Towell July 14, 2012
ACT Greens' MLA Caroline Le Couteur has lost an ''ugly'' battle for control of the Canberra-based ethical investment company she helped found in the 1980s.
Ms Le Couteur and her two fellow founders and former directors of Australian Ethical Investments have failed in a bid to roll the board of the company the trio established in Canberra in 1986.
During a corporate battle marred by ''ill-will and disruption'', threats of legal action were made against company officers and attempts were made to co-opt workers into the campaign to oust the board.
The allegations were made in a statement to shareholders ahead of a general meeting last month that was to vote on the resolutions by Ms Le Couteur and her colleagues, dubbed the ''dissident directors'' that would have dismissed AEI's board.
Ms Le Couteur declined to be interviewed for this article.
The Canberra company has grown in 26 years from a start-up to an outfit with more than $600 million of ethical investments under management and a market capitalisation of $20 million.
But managing director Phil Vernon said he and chairman Andre Morony had been moving the company from its traditional ''high- cost, high-priced'' business model, a process that had involved up to 13 redundancies in Canberra.
The strategy also involved raising AEI's Sydney profile and had put the management team at odds with the founding shareholders.
The flashpoint that led to last month's confrontation is understood to have come in 2010 when the present management team refused, against the founders' wishes, to become involved in a federal government ''social impact'' grant scheme.
Ms Le Couteur and her two colleagues, Howard Pender and James Thier, controlled about 15 per cent of the voting stock but Mr Vernon said yesterday the resolution at the general meeting had been settled in the favour of the present board.
''The whole thing has been ugly, has been an unnecessary distraction,'' Mr Vernon said of the row yesterday.
''None of the resolutions passed, the present board won by a comfortable margin and the dissident shareholders have said in writing that they would respect the vote of the shareholders and we expect them to.''
The managing director said he and his colleagues had been pursuing strategies aimed at securing the company's future in a difficult trading environment.
''We've been through quite a bit of change, we're a financial services company and financial service companies are going through probably the most tumultuous times they have gone through in decades,'' Mr Vernon said.
''We're a fairly high-cost, high-priced business and in the past few years we've been making quite a few changes to the business.
''In order to make us more competitive in terms of our product pricing, more robust in terms of our operations and lower costs, we've made changes, there have been redundancies and when you make changes like that, not everybody's happy.''