Chief ex­ec­u­tive Pitt leaves INM as Doorly set to step in for in­terim

De­par­ture to re­solve bad blood in board­room over New­stalk row

The Irish Times - Business - - FRONT PAGE - MARK PAUL Busi­ness Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

Out­go­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive has agreed a size­able exit pack­age

It is un­der­stood that Michael Doorly, the com­pany sec­re­tary and chief risk of­fi­cer at In­de­pen­dent News & Me­dia (INM), will take over as in­terim chief ex­ec­u­tive fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Robert Pitt.

The de­part­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive will leave INM to­day fol­low­ing talks be­tween the com­pany, his rep­re­sen­ta­tives and those of Les­lie Buck­ley, INM’s chair­man, to re­solve a board­room row over an aborted deal for New­stalk that has dogged it for over a year.

His exit brings to an end to one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary di­rec­tor stand­offs in Ir­ish cor­po­rate his­tory, which cul­mi­nated in the out­go­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive mak­ing a pro­tected dis­clo­sure about Mr Buck­ley to the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Cor­po­rate En­force­ment (ODCE).

It is un­clear so far if Mr Pitt’s exit has any im­pli­ca­tions for the fu­ture of Ryan Pre­ston, INM’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, who also made a sim­i­lar pro­tected dis­clo­sure about the New­stalk row in­ter­nally un­der whistle­blower rules.

INM’s state­ment about Mr Pitt’s exit made no men­tion of any other de­par­tures, and Mr Pre­ston cur­rently re­mains in situ. The com­pany would not com­ment fur­ther on its chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, who also pre­vi­ously worked with Mr Pitt at the re­tailer Tesco. It is un­der­stood that out­go­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive has agreed a size­able exit pack­age, al­though the com­pany would not com­ment. Sources in­di­cated that INM has made a pro­vi­sion of up to €2 mil­lion in­ter­nally to pay for se­nior man­age­ment de­par­tures.

Share op­tions

Mr Pitt was paid a to­tal of €566,000 last year and €693,000 the year be­fore. He had also been granted share op­tions with a “fair value” of more than €1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent an­nual re­port. It is un­clear if he got a pay­ment as part of his exit deal to take ac­count of those op­tions. Mr Pitt and Mr Buck­ley, who rep­re­sents main share­holder De­nis O’Brien on the INM board, fell out over an aban­doned pro­posal for INM to buy Mr O’Brien’s ra­dio sta­tion New­stalk. Mr Pitt felt New­stalk was over­val­ued and he re­fused to pay the sum Mr O’Brien was ask­ing. The chief ex­ec­u­tive com­mis­sioned a val­u­a­tion for New­stalk from ex­ter­nal ad­vis­ers that was sig­nif­i­cantly be­low the price sought by Mr O’Brien. Mr Pitt and Mr Buck­ley then had a ma­jor dis­pute about the price tag for the pro­posed deal, and a for­mal pro­posal to bid was never brought to INM’s board.

Row in­ten­si­fied

The chief ex­ec­u­tive still com­plained about Mr Buck­ley to other mem­bers of INM’s board, who in­ves­ti­gated but found “no is­sue of con­cern” for the com­pany.

As the row in­ten­si­fied late last year, Mr Pitt then made his whistle­blower com­plaint about his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr Buck­ley to the ODCE, the State’s cor­po­rate watch­dog. Fol­low­ing a story by The Ir­ish Times on Thurs­day that a deal to end the stand­off was close, the com­pany told the stock ex­change yes­ter­day af­ter­noon that Mr Pitt will leave the busi­ness with ef­fect from to­day “to pur­sue other in­ter­ests”.

The ODCE con­tin­ues to in­ves­ti­gate the row over the New­stalk price tag. A sep­a­rate, in­de­pen­dent in­quiry com­mis­sioned by the board has failed to reach a con­clu­sion to favour ei­ther of the con­flict­ing ac­counts of Mr Pitt and Mr Buck­ley.

In Au­gust, Mr Pitt took an un­prece­dented step for an Ir­ish listed com­pany chief ex­ec­u­tive by pub­licly re­fus­ing to back the re-elec­tion to the board of his chair­man at the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing.INM would not com­ment fur­ther.

Mr Pitt took an un­prece­dented step for an Ir­ish listed com­pany chief

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL

INM chief ex­ec­u­tive Robert Pitt walks past chair­man Les­lie Buck­ley at the me­dia group’s an­nual meet­ing in Au­gust.

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