ACT News


Move to oust board of ethical investor

Former ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur has again been drawn into a battle for control of a Canberra-based ethical investment company.

Ms Le Couteur and two fellow founders and former directors of Australian Ethical Investments, Howard Pender and James Thier, have sponsored resolutions to oust the board at the company's annual general meeting later this month.

Ms Le Couteur's sister, Penelope, has been nominated as a replacement.

The powerplay comes months after Ms Le Couteur and rebel shareholders lost an ugly battle for control of the company the trio established in Canberra in 1986. Ms Le Couteur, Mr Pender and Mr Thier control 15 per cent of the stock but lost a vote to spill the board at a general meeting in June.

The Canberra-listed company invests in environmentally and socially responsible products and has grown from humble beginnings into a firm with $627 million of ethical investments under management.

The present managers have restructured the company from its traditional model, leading to the showdown with its founding shareholders.


Ms Le Couteur said the dissident group had recently written to shareholders about a number of concerns, including treatment of staff, financial results, and adherence to the ethical charter.

She said staff turnover - through resignations or redundancies - had been high since she left the company to become an MLA in 2008.

She said the company did not appear to be well managed, with profits and dividends on the decrease.

The figures appear to support Ms Le Couteur argument, with results from 2011-12 showing profit dropped 64 per cent on the previous financial year.

''At the same time key management personnel compensation has been reported to have increased 24 per cent in the most recent financial year on the prior year, CEO pay has been reported to have risen from $343,809 to $425,441,'' Ms Le Couteur said.

''I understand that funds have also been leaving the company from long-term supportive advisers. They are seeing the issues.''

But Australian Ethical Investments managing director Phil Vernon said the boardroom brawl was a factor in disrupting business, with the failed coup in June directly costing the company $125,000.

Mr Vernon said he was confident of victory when shareholders vote on November 22 and called on the band of rebels to respect the result.

''A relatively small shareholder imposing their will across an entire company is just not right,'' Mr Vernon said.

He said the company had undergone a restructure to better serve clients.

''We always had the strongest ethical approach to investing and that won't change.

''We believe that clients deserve best practice, products and services and that's what we've been working to deliver.

''That impacts some people along the way, unfortunately.''