Aryzta’s move to replace chairman prompts takeover speculation

Swiss-Irish food group chief Gary McGann indicated exit if no buyer found by the EGM

Outgoing Aryzta chairman Gary McGann (left) with chief executive Kevin Toland. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Outgoing Aryzta chairman Gary McGann (left) with chief executive Kevin Toland. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Shares in Aryzta fell on Thursday amid speculation that the company’s move to line up a replacement for chairman Gary McGann meant it had not yet found a buyer.

Mr McGann had promised to step down if a deal to sell the troubled Swiss-Irish food group had not been struck prior to an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in September.

The company said last month it had been approached by several parties interested in taking over the group.

However, in a statement to the Swiss and Irish stock exchanges, Aryzta named a replacement for Mr McGann, nominating the former head of Swiss-Belgian chocolate giant Barry Callebaut, Andreas Schmid, to the role.

This prompted speculation that it may not have been able to secure a takeover deal.

A broker’s note from Baader Bank in Germany noted that “Aryzta wrote in their press release on the July 20th that Mr McGann would step down ‘unless [ . . . ]has announced a transaction’. We therefore do rather judge the likelihood of a deal has decreased.”

Shares in the company, which owns the Cuisine de France label here, fell 3.2 per cent to 56 cent.

The company’s attempt to get Mr Schmid elected at next months’s EGM faces opposition from activist shareholders, who described his nomination as not in the best interest of the bakery group.

The shareholder group, led by Veraison and Aryzta’s largest investor Cobas, are seeking to oust Mr McGann and four other directors in a bid to reverse the decline in shareholder value, which is down more than 80 per cent since late 2018.

The group has also criticised the strategic review announced in May by Aryzta’s board, which, it said, had failed to reach any conclusions.

“After discussions and further engagement attempts during the last weeks, his [Mr Schmid’s] election is clearly rejected by the shareholder group,” it said.

“After continued delaying tactics as well as the public announcement of a strategic review and sales process, Aryzta needs, more than ever, bakery industry competence and trustworthy leadership.”

The group is proposing the election of Urs Jordi, Heiner Kamps and Armin Bieri to the board, saying they could stabilise the company immediately after the EGM.

Between 1998 and 2002, Mr Schmid was chief executive of the Zurich-headquartered Barry Callebaut and was later appointed chairman.

“I am honoured to be nominated by the board as chair of the board of directors of Aryzta. I am aware of the headwinds the company is currently facing, but I look forward to working with Aryzta chief executive Kevin Toland, his management team and the board of directors to overcome these challenges,” said Mr Schmid.

“Should I be elected by the extraordinary general meeting, I would step down from certain mandates I currently hold in order to fully support the business as it continues to manage through these difficult times,” he added.

Mr McGann said the proposed new chairman was uniquely positioned to work with Aryzta’s board, chief executive and the broader management team.

Aryzta has been struggling to halt a decline in earnings, particularly in the United States, and negative investor sentiment towards its complex capital structure.

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