Greens MLA in bid to topple board

GREENS MLA Caroline Le Couteur, a founding shareholder and former director of Australian Ethical Investment, is reported to be involved in a bid to roll the company’s entire board. 

According to an article by Michael West in today’s “Sydney Morning Herald”, Ms Le Couteur alongside fellow AEI founding shareholders and former directors, Howard Pender and James Thier “are bent on deposing” AEI’s managing director Phillip Vernon and chairman Andre Morony, for “incompetent management”.

Ms Le Couteur lists AEI, a fund manager that offers superannuation and managed funds in ethical investment, on her “Declarations of Interest” for the Assembly. She also lists her spouse as a shareholder. According to West’s article, AEI currently manages $600 million in ethical investments.

Ms Le Couteur, Mr Pender and Mr Thier, who collectively own 15 per cent of the company’s stocks, are using a letter that states a list of complaints about management and its strategy. The letter, that dates back to more than a year ago, was from a staff advocate who spoke on behalf of 73 per cent of the company’s employees. Those employees remained anonymous.

“For their part, Morony and the board say the rebel shareholders have ulterior motives,” West writes.

“Revenge is one, they say. All three contenders were former directors whose relations with the present leadership were acrimonious.”

However, West writes that “apart from the issue of poor relations between management and staff though, the acrimony between the two camps largely hinges on a dispute over a government grant”.

The grant in question was a winning bid for a scheme in mid-2010 to “establish two Social Enterprise Development and Investment Funds (SEDIF) to attract seed and growth capital for social enterprises and develop ‘social impact investment’ in Australia”.

However, despite winning a $14 million grant for worthy “social impact” causes by Australian Ethical, the “board and management claim they were not told about the grant and, in any case, they formed the view that administering the ‘social impact’ lending would not be in the best interests of AE clients”.

“AE management decided against proceeding with the grant and the matter was put to the board at a meeting on April 15, 2011,” writes West.


Caroline Le Couteur

“With the exception of Howard Pender, who supported the application, the board rejected the grant.

“Relations soured further from there. The board took legal advice and took the view that the SEDIF submission exposed the company to potential legal action for false and misleading behaviour.”

West writes there is no requisition for an extraordinary meeting.

“The resolutions need to be lodged for two months prior to any meeting,” he writes.

“Now that they have been lodged it remains for the company either to bring on the showdown or to list the resolutions for the annual meeting.”

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