Peter Gregg has flatly denied speculation that he has been actively agitating Qantas shareholders to support a rival strategy at the airline, but rumours of a private equity play continue to circulate.
Speaking from Dubai, Gregg, who is the chief financial officer of Leighton Holdings and a former senior executive at Qantas, said people ask for his opinion on Qantas on a regular basis and he gives it to them, but that doesn't mean he has been actively meeting shareholders to garner support for a strategy that would include selling its frequent flier business and float Jetstar to extract value from the ailing airline.
“I have always believed Asia is an important region for the company and I still believe that is the case, but I'm not there at the company so they are just opinions,” he said. “I have not been agitating for change at Qantas,” he said.
Gregg's denial was in response to an article in the Australian Financial Review today which claimed Gregg and venture capitalist Mark Carnegie had held discussions with key investors and unions two months ago as they considered a rival plan to extract value out of Qantas.
Gregg also denied that he had approached shareholders saying he had the support of about 20 per cent of the Qantas register.
While Gregg denies actively supporting a plan to destabilise Qantas, well-placed sources say the consortium Global Aviation Asset Management, which has investors including Gregg, Geoff Dixon, the Lieberman family and John Singleton, is getting close to making a decision on whether to make a move on Qantas.
Private equity interest
There is also speculation that a private equity operator is doing the numbers and is considering making an alternative offer for Qantas, which has been battered on the sharemarket in the past few years as investors question the airline's strategy.
There is also speculation that the long-term plan of Emirates is to take over Qantas and use it largely for domestic transport and use Emirates for international flights. Qantas recently signed a code share with Emirates.
However, last week Emirates CEO Tim Clark ruled out taking any equity in Qantas now or in the future.
Gregg, who was involved in a failed private equity bid for Qantas in 2006, said he was committed to his job at Leighton. There has been talk that he has been using some of Leighton's finance team to assess the financial merits of taking a stake in Qantas and using it to pressure the board to change the strategy at Qantas.
Gregg is an investor in aviation business Global Aviation Asset Management, along with John Singleton, Geoff Dixon and the Lieberman family. GAAM was established seven years ago to specialise in aviation leasing. It is headed by Greg Woolley, the former Macquarie banker who led the investment committee behind the failed takeover bid for Qantas by the Airline Partners Australia consortium six years ago.
Qantas released a statement saying that there had been takeover speculation surrounding the company for at least 12 months but that it had not received any formal or informal approaches. Qantas's shares rose 2 per cent today to $1.28 a share.