A study in Indo-ology as Robert Pitt and Leslie Buckley keep up appearances

INM chief executive and chairman in show of unity at egm after discord over Newstalk bid

Chief executive Robert Pitt (left) and chairman Leslie Buckley at the Independent News and Media emergency general meeting in the O’Callaghan Alexander Hotel, Dublin, on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Chief executive Robert Pitt (left) and chairman Leslie Buckley at the Independent News and Media emergency general meeting in the O’Callaghan Alexander Hotel, Dublin, on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Following last week’s public revelations of discord between Independent News and Media (INM) chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley over how much to bid for Newstalk, it was notable in itself that Pitt was present at Monday’s emergency general meeting (egm) at all.

Buckley is main shareholder Denis O’Brien’s nominee to the board and his right-hand man. Discord with Buckley suggests the possibility of discord with O’Brien, who isn’t exactly renowned for his tolerance of dissenting voices.

Pitt’s future at INM has been under intense scrutiny since his the revelation of his falling-out with Buckley. But there he was, seated at the egm top table next to his chairman.

The INM chief executive has been around the block long enough to know that his presence at the egm could be viewed as a statement of defiance, as rumours continue to swirl over whether the fallout over Newstalk will lead to his exit.

Kremlinology was the study of small details, even including body language, to ascertain what was happening behind the scenes among the leaders of Soviet Russia. Indo-ology may yet become a thing.

The pre-meeting photocalls were all smiles and cordial platitudes, but the atmosphere smacked of the managed tension of an unhappy couple putting on a public show of unity at a family gathering.

Pitt did not address the meeting and, as is the custom, the chairman handled the proceedings. The chief executive sat mostly in silence, with his hands clasped together on the table. Occasionally, he turned to Buckley and the two exchanged a few polite words. But there was no obvious warmth between them.

Ryan Preston, the finance chief hired by Pitt who is also understood to have been involved in the debate over how much to bid for Newstalk, sat noticeably tense – much more so than Pitt – on the other side of Buckley.

Buckley began by pointing out the fire exits – one can never be sure what might happen at an angry egm – and formally opened the meeting. He rattled through the resolutions and listened, sometimes with a wry expression, as some shareholders verbally assailed him over the company’s pensions move and queried how a Newstalk bid would fit with good corporate governance.

Buckley then suggested that the capital restructuring was made necessary by losses that arose due to INM buying “greatly overvalued” assets in the past, prompting smiles all around the room given the row with Pitt.