The €23m question hanging over Independent News & Media
Cantillon: Amount is more than a quarter of INM’s current cash pile
Robert Pitt, chief executive (left) and chairman Leslie Buckley attending an Independent News & Media egm last November. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The boardroom row at Independent News & Media over a proposed bid last year for Denis O’Brien’s Newstalk keeps rumbling on. And on... and on.
Chief executive Robert Pitt, who fell out with INM’s chairman, Leslie Buckley, appears to be in it for the long haul. Protected under whistleblower legislation, he seems content to sit tight, confounding earlier expectations that he would leave after a negotiated settlement.
One thing we haven’t had confirmation of yet is the precise gulf between the two competing valuations for Newstalk, a significant but loss-making radio operation that would fit awkwardly within INM’s acquisitions strategy, whose proposed purchase was the catalyst for the current rift.
It is now understood by this newspaper that the valuation being sought by the Newstalk side came in at between €34 million and €37 million. That seems like an extraordinary sum for a loss-making radio station, no matter what way you swing a bat at it.
The Davy corporate finance valuation of Newstalk that was commissioned by INM’s executive team was, it is understood, between €11 million and €14 million. That suggests a gulf of approximately €23 million.
That is more than a quarter of INM’s current cash pile. Last year when the row first broke out, it would have been only a little under half of the cash pile.
After Pitt made his first disclosure on the matter to the senior independent director, the subcommittee that was formed by the board reported back that “no issue of concern arose”.
This appeared still to be the position on November 28th when INM issued its first statement on the matter. Yet weeks later, a senior counsel and a corporate governance expert were appointed to lead an external inquiry.
Perhaps the board had reason to believe that the disgruntled chief executive would go elsewhere for renewed scrutiny of the situation, and this helped concentrate minds.
The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is now examining the complaints of Pitt and another executive.
Given the generally slow pace of probes by the already-stretched State corporate watchdog, a denouement to this extraordinary story could yet be a long way off.