Teeth bared in A$4.5m dismissal dispute

21:07, May 29 2014

The former chief executive of Australia's second-largest dental chain, Dental Partners, is suing the group's parent company for wrongful dismissal following a review of his performance by a consulting firm he alleges is part-owned by his chairman.

Mike Timoney, who co-founded Gold Coast-based Dental Partners, this week filed a claim for A$4.5 million (NZ$4.9m) in the Supreme Court of Queensland against Abano Healthcare following his dismissal from the company last year.

The court documents also allege misleading and deceptive conduct over a decision by Dental Partners chairman Alan Clarke to engage K2 Consulting to carry out two performance reviews of his performance.

The documents alleged Clarke was a joint shareholder in K2, which conducted two 360-degree reviews of Timoney's performance which ultimately led to his dismissal. Clarke is also the managing director of New Zealand-listed Abano Healthcare.

The dispute is the latest development in a messy corporate campaign in New Zealand to remove Abano's chairman Trevor Janes.

The push by disgruntled shareholders stems from the board's decision to reject a takeover bid for Abano by Australian private equity firm Archer Capital last year.

Timoney, who lives on the Gold Coast, said on Thursday he was seeking damages for lost remuneration and damage to his reputation.

"All I ever wanted was to be treated fairly. I founded this company. Being chucked out of the business in the dead of night like a criminal was not my idea of how I would depart," he said.

Clarke declined to comment, saying he wanted to see details of the legal claim first.

"I found out about the claims on yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon, I am travelling and I haven't seen the documentation which was served in Queensland. It is inappropriate for me to make any comment at the moment until I actually understand what the claims are about," he said.

In his claim, Timoney alleges "negligent" performance by K2 of the two performance reviews and the conduct of Abano and Dental Partner and Abano Healthcare which he said resulted in his termination.

Timoney established the Totally Teeth practice with his wife on the Gold Coast which he grew to employ nine dentists with an annual turnover of A$3m in its first two years.

Alongside co-founder David Garofalo and Abano, which later took a 70 per cent stake, Timoney established Dental Partners in 2008. The chain's nine foundation practices has grown to around 70, making it the No. 2 player in the market behind Bupa-owned Dental Corp.

Abano bought the remaining 30 per cent of the company mid-way through 2012, but the relationship soured. A small remaining stake in the company was held in escrow.

Timoney and Garofalo sold a tranche of Abano shares worth almost NZ$1.5m each the day before Abano announced it had a takeover bid in August last year.

At the time, Timoney wrote to the New Zealand Stock Exchange and other regulators querying if the actions of the Abano board precluded him from a fair and transparent transaction when he sold shares in the company on August 6.