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Battle lost, founder might quit share fund

Date

Michael Inman

Caroline Le Couteur

Caroline Le Couteur Photo: Supplied

Former ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur could sell out of the Canberra-based ethical investment company she helped found after a bid to spill the board failed last week.

Resolutions to oust chairman Andre Morony and managing director Phil Vernon from Australian Ethical Investments - sponsored by Ms Le Couteur and her two fellow founders and former directors Howard Pender and James Thier - were voted down by shareholders at the company's annual general meeting on Thursday.

Ms Le Couteur's sister, Penelope, withdrew her nomination as a replacement director before the vote. Two other rebel shareholder nominations were defeated.

It is the second time the group - which controls 15 per cent of the stock - has failed to overthrow company management this year, with an ill-fated powerplay defeated by shareholders in June.

The Canberra-listed company invests in environmentally and socially responsible products.

It has grown from a modest start-up in 1986 into a firm with $627 million in ethical investments under management.

The current management team restructured the company from its traditional model in the years following the global financial crisis, leading to the showdowns with its founding shareholders.

Earlier this month, Ms Le Couteur wrote to shareholders outlining a number of concerns about the way the company was being managed, including treatment of staff and financial results.

But when it was put to a vote, shareholders chose to stick with the management team.

Ms Le Couteur said she would now re-evaluate her relationship with the company.

She said one option included dumping her 5 per cent stake.

The share value of $18.65 would net Ms Le Couteur more than $900,000 if she were to sell out.

''I will look at my options in terms of what I do with my shareholding … I'm hoping to have some discussions with relevant people,'' Ms Le Couteur said.

''It's a significant bit of my personal assets and it's something I need to put a bit more energy into working out what the best options are for me and for the company.

''I'm not ruling out selling up, but I'm not ruling out staying in either.''

Mr Morony said the dispute had been a distraction and he hoped the vote would be the end of the internal turmoil.

''I'm hoping that these results will finally make these people leave the board and management to manage the company in the best interests of all shareholders'' Mr Morony said.

''There is a lot of positive momentum in the business at the moment, evidenced by our recent extremely positive staff survey results and Rising Star award from Super-Ratings and the self-indulgent actions by these people is a significant distraction to the business.''

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