Small investors not too high on Aryzta’s agenda

Cantillon: Company declines to offer shareholders a dial-in line to follow agm

A range of goods produced by Cuisine de France, an Irish subsidiary of listed food group Aryzta.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A range of goods produced by Cuisine de France, an Irish subsidiary of listed food group Aryzta. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Gregor Greber, the activist investor who orchestrated a boardroom coup in bakery group Aryzta in September, came to the decisive extraordinary general meeting with a bag of smiley-faced cookies to hand out to shareholders in attendance.

The candidate he saw through as the group’s next chairman, Urs Jordi, couldn’t even be bothered to offer shareholders a dial-in line to follow Aryzta’s annual general meeting (agm) that takes place on Tuesday.

One of the casualties of Covid-19 has been the company agm, replaced by and large by virtual versions streamed over the internet or via a phone line. Companies globally have shown how little regard they have for retail investors by asking for questions to be submitted in advance – allowing them, at best, to cherry-pick which ones to answer.

The whole experience has left a bad taste in the mouth for small investors the world over, who don’t have the access big institutional types have to executives. Agms are the only occasion where shareholders with small holdings can put boards on the spot with potentially tricky questions.

Aryzta has told investors it is holding its agm without the attendance of shareholders under Swiss Covid-19 restrictions that limit those attending a public meeting to five.

“This means that for public health reasons the company does not believe it is prudent or safe to facilitate a production crew to broadcast it as a virtual event,” it said in response to questions from The Irish Times. How a dial-in line would require an in-room production crew is beyond Cantillon.

“Shareholders’ questions in relation to the agm will be responded to rapidly by Aryzta’s investor relations team, and the board will continue to update shareholders about all relevant new information in a timely manner,” the company said.

The agm will, most likely, see the completion of a boardroom overhaul that had begun in September with the election of Jordi and two others put forward by Greber’s Veraison Capital and another activist shareholder group.

The occasion should be providing investors with a chance to press Aryzta on its response to US hedge fund Elliott Management’s €735 million bid for the business, formally submitted last week, or Jordi’s well-known alternative plan of selling off unwanted assets.

The chances of the bid being accepted will likely fade rapidly as the final members of the old board, which entered talks with Elliott in the first place, are voted out.

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