'Four, no, three' board vacancies, says Osborne before he is voted off himself
ANALYSIS:THE FIRST order of business at the second consecutive year of drama at the Independent News Media agm was, prosaically, health and safety.
“I’ve been asked to point out all the exits. But to be quite honest, I can only see one,” announced James Osborne, at that stage still chairman of the group. “I can see a lot of windows over there so I suspect we’ll probably be alright,” he added, optimistically.
As proceedings kicked off in a low-ceilinged room at the back of the Citywest Hotel in Dublin, Osborne was still, nominally, the man in charge.
“This is my first [INM] agm, and it may be my last, I’m not sure.”
After a series of retirements, there were now “four, no, three” vacancies on the board, Osborne said, checking the number with company secretary Andrew Donagher. “There may be more after this meeting,” a wry Osborne continued.
Seven INM directors had managed to survive until this point.
Down at one end of the top table, Paul Connolly, the director who took legal action against the €1.87 million exit package paid to former chief executive Gavin O’Reilly, sat next to Lucy Gaffney, with Donagher providing the buffer between the two Denis O’Brien-affiliated directors and the soon-to-be-defeated Osborne.
The chairman claimed at one point that, despite having called for his resignation, he had “a good relationship . . . I think” with Connolly. He looked down the table for confirmation and seemed to get a nod in return.
“You could put this down to a one-off,” explained Osborne of the stand-off he was destined to lose. “In my view it’s a one-off.”
As the microphone began its tantalising rove, one shareholder took to quoting Benjamin Franklin: “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools that don’t have brains enough to be honest.”
Osborne replied that he quite liked the saying.
Another shareholder wondered whether light had been shed on last year’s reports that O’Reilly’s car had been tailed by spies.
“We’re none the wiser,” said new chief executive/cost-cutter Vincent Crowley, agreeing it was a “somewhat bizarre” turn of events. “He’s safe anyway,” he assured, to a ripple of laughter.
One shareholder who said he had been an employee of the company for more than 40 years regretted INM had “been brought down to a level I feel embarrassed about” as a result of “a bunfight between two rich men”.
But there was little evidence of O’Reilly loyalists having turned out in force. When a shareholder said he hoped the company remained independent and outside the control of O’Brien, he garnered just a smattering of applause.
It was left to the statements read out by O’Brien and Dermot Desmond’s representatives to provide the real frisson.
Solicitor Owen O’Connell, for O’Brien, spoke of share price declines and a need for “radical restructuring”; John Bateson, for Desmond, claimed the board had punished Connolly for not being part of its “groupthink”.
The results of the board re-election poll would be known later in the afternoon. But by lunchtime, Osborne, having already seen the hand of O’Brien’s man rise against him, could be overheard describing himself as INM’s “former chairman”.
Where were those exits again?