Abano shareholders endorse chairman

If a campaign by Peter Hutson and James Reeves to unseat Abano Healthcare's chairman succeeded in anything, it was to galvanise their opposition.

A record number of the dentistry company's shareholders voted at yesterday's special meeting and their decision was overwhelming - chairman Trevor Janes would stay. By the time a couple of hundred shareholders had gathered for the meeting in Auckland, proxy votes representing 82 per cent of shares had already been cast. Of those, three-quarters voted against a resolution to remove Janes from the board.

It was game over for Hutson and Reeves, owners of a collective 18.6 per cent of Abano. But they also had to sit and listen as a series of heavyweight commentators delivered a withering critique of their action.

Fund manager Brian Gaynor, of Milford Asset Management, expressed his sadness at the breakdown in the relationship between Hutson and the Abano directors, who shared a board table till Hutson backed an abortive takeover proposal last year.

It was strange to see the constant attack from Hutson and Reeves on Abano's dental strategy in Australia, said Gaynor, when it was exactly what Hutson had done when in charge of Abano's international audiology business.

The criticism of Abano's debt was also strange because it needed debt to grow and "it's disturbing to me to see the constant personal attacks on Trevor Janes".

Gaynor said he backed Abano and Janes, and Milford voted against the resolution.

Mark Brighouse of Fisher Funds said Abano's future growth opportunities were valuable and the resolution to remove Janes was the result of an unsuccessful attempt to buy the company.

"It's high time we resolve this issue and end the debate. It's been a delightful opportunity to get together and compare notes with other shareholders but I think it's time we all got back to work."

Commercial lawyer Stephen Franks said he would rather be at Fieldays but had come to express concern over false statements made about Janes. "It has really offended me and it makes me worried about commercial morality," he said. "I'd like to be [Janes'] lawyer in a defamation action for a number of mistakes made over the last few months."

John Hawkins, of the Shareholders Association, said he would be voting a 5 per cent proxy holding against the resolution.

"This meeting is democracy in action. The minority view has had an airing. Continuing disruption will only result in loss to all shareholders."

He knew of two offers to buy out Hutson and Reeves at market price, so if they did not like the way Abano was being run they had an easy exit. Of the 16.9 million votes cast, 76.6 per cent were against the resolution and 23.4 per cent in favour. Fairfax NZ