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Outgoing APN News and Media CEO upbeat about firm's future

APN chief executive Brett Chenoweth.
APN chief executive Brett Chenoweth.

DEPARTING APN News and Media CEO Brett Chenoweth has given an upbeat assessment of its future, describing it as a 'fantastic company'' with some of the best and most talented people he had worked with.

In an email to Australian and New Zealand staff sent on Monday night, Mr Chenoweth said his decision to resign, along with chairman Peter Hunt and three independent directors, was "not a decision that was made lightly by any of us''.

"Following a series of discussions regarding the need to raise capital it has become clear that my views  and those of the major shareholders in respect of this matter are irreconcilable,'' Mr Chenoweth said.

"As such, my position and the position of a number of the directors, became untenable.

"So....I will now not be in a position to finish what I have started. This is the first time in my life that I can say that and I am very disappointed.

"APN is a fantastic company with some of the best and most talented people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

"I am proud of all of our businesses.

"Both ARM (Australian Regional Media) and NZM have faced tremendous headwinds (and floods and earthquakes..) but they are performing best in class, in a very tough industry.

"Our radio businesses are thriving and have a very big and bright future.

"Outdoor is rock solid and the growth has been extraordinary and we now have a digital group and investments that have given APN true 'digital credibility' in Australia and New Zealand, with a long and prosperous road ahead.

"All of these achievements you should be very proud of. I know that I am.''

APN has a string of radio stations and newspapers in Australia and New Zealand, including the New Zealand Herald and regional papers from Mackay down to Coffs Harbour. It is the publisher of this website.

The company has invested heavily in its digital business in recent times as its print operation has, like every other print business, been hit with declining revenues.

APN, which is part-owned by Irish-based Independent News and Media, will now seek a new CEO and new board members.

Chairman, CEO and three directors resign from APN

THE chairman of APN News and Media Peter Hunt has announced his resignation along with that of CEO Brett Chenoweth and three independent directors.

The resignations of Mr Hunt, Mr Chenoweth, Melinda Conrad, John Harvey and John Maasland will take effect at 9am on Tuesday, February 19.

In addition, independent director Kevin Luscombe will retire in April 2013 as previously planned.

The Board of Directors met on Sunday to determine whether APN would undertake a renounceable pro-rata capital raising as disclosed to the market on February 15.

The proposal was to launch the capital raising with Macquarie Capital as the sole underwriter, at the time of the full year results announcement.

"Preparation for the capital raising had been supported by all directors and had been under discussion for several months although the timing and final decision to proceed had not been agreed,'' a statement from APN today said.

"While the board agreed the company needed to reduce its debt, it was unable to agree on the methodology.

"The Departing Directors believed that a capital raising should be undertaken at the time the company announces its full year results.

"This would have been in conjunction with a continued focus on repositioning the publishing businesses and potential asset sales.

"Other Directors believe that consideration of an equity raising should be undertaken in a time frame that allowed other options to be pursued.''

Independent News & Media plc (INM) and its major shareholder together with Allan Gray representing approximately 51% of APN's shares have unequivocally indicated they are opposed to a capital raising.

Last Friday, the board received a requisition from INM for an extraordinary general meeting to remove six Directors, including the Chairman and CEO and establish a new board.

This would consist initially of two INM representatives, Vincent Crowley and Paul Connolly, as well as Peter Cosgrove and Deputy Chairman Ted Harris.

"The departing directors have a different view on gearing levels to the major shareholders and in light of their opposing position it is not tenable for them to continue,'' the APN statement said.

"At a previous board meeting the non-INM representative directors all unanimously stated their support for Brett Chenoweth and his strategy.

"The company is in the process of appointing a search firm to assist in the selection of a CEO and additional Board members.

"APN intends to announce its full year result to the market on 21 February 2013 as scheduled.''

Irish behind push to replace APN's CEO, chair and board members

The decision came as APN's second largest shareholder, Allan Gray, backed Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien in calling for the company's board to be ousted if it does not reconsider a planned capital raising.

O'Brien is Ireland's wealthiest man with a net worth estimated at $5 billion by Forbes.

His fortune came on the back of the success of Digicel, a telecoms provider in the Caribbean.

Earlier, APN's largest shareholder has called for a general meeting to remove the CEO and several board members.

APN on Monday released a letter from its largest shareholder Independent News & Media (INM) requesting the board call a general meeting to vote on the removal of chief executive Brett Chenoweth, chairman Peter Hunt and directors Melinda Conrad, John Harvey, Kevin Luscombe and John Maasland.

INM said it was not calling for the removal of directors Paul Connolly, Peter Cosgrove, Vincent Crowley and Albert Harris "to ensure APN will continue to have a sufficient number of directors".

"If all resolutions are passed, INM would expect that the continuing directors would seek to identify and appoint additional independent directors who have the skills and commitment to contribute to the board's consideration of strategies and initiatives to restore value," INM said.

On Friday, INM said it had "lost confidence in Mr Chenoweth's ability to implement the strategic initiatives necessary to reposition APN for the more challenged media landscape that has emerged in Australasia".

The Irish based company, which owns 29% of APN, added that it was "seeking the removal of Brett Chenoweth as director and chief executive of APN News & Media" and planned to call an extraordinary general meeting.

On Monday, APN said it had received the notice and intended to make a further announcement later in the day regarding a potential capital raising and other matters.

"Until that time, APN remains in a trading halt," APN said.

APN owns newspapers, radio, outdoor advertising and digital assets in Australia and New Zealand, including this website.

Its regional newspapers include the Sunshine Coast Daily, Toowoomba Chronicle, Queensland Times, and titles right up to Mackay.

Topics:  apn business media news



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