The pressure on Stobart Group’s chairman intensified this weekend as more than 20 of the company’s top executives backed a letter calling for him to resign amid a bitter boardroom row.
Sky News has learnt that senior managers across the infrastructure conglomerate have supported an open letter to the board to urge Iain Ferguson to quit ahead of next month’s annual general meeting (AGM).
Stobart, which has a market value of about £850m, owns Southend Airport and is a big player in the biomass industry.
The executives are understood to have become alarmed at the impact of the row between Stobart’s board and Andrew Tinkler, its former chief executive, on the day-to-day running of the business.
A reference to their demand was contained in a letter sent by Mr Tinkler to leading shareholders late on Friday.
His campaign to oust Mr Ferguson has already won backing from roughly one-third of investors, including the fund management firm headed by Neil Woodford.
Mr Tinkler’s letter, which has been seen by Sky News, criticises the “public mud-slinging…without any regard for the waste of the company’s resources involved or the impact on employees, customers and suppliers”.
“It has come to my attention that over 80% of the Executive Leadership Team are in favour of Mr Ferguson stepping down,” he wrote.
He also attacked statements made by the company about him that he alleges were defamatory, and called on shareholders to support the replacement of Mr Ferguson with Philip Day, the billionaire owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM).
The battle over Stobart’s future leadership team has become one of the most bitter boardroom rows that the City has seen for years.
Last week, the company sued Mr Tinkler – who remains on the board – and former director William Stobart – for nearly £4m in connection with a tax payment linked with the purchase of an engineering firm in 2008.
Mr Tinkler, who The Sunday Times reported was paid £5.6m last year, responded by launching his own lawsuit against directors including the chief executive, Warwick Brady.
Stobart was also forced to replace its joint broker, Cenkos Securities, because of its long-standing links to Mr Tinkler and Mr Woodford.
The company has endured a difficult time in recent months, a period in which it aborted a potential takeover offer for Flybe, the regional airline.
Mr Tinkler, a director and 7.7% shareholder in the company, had said in an earlier statement that his “only objective is to ensure that the company sticks to the agreed company strategy and does not deviate from this, as this will deliver the best returns for shareholders”.
Stobart Group operates across sectors including the supply of biomass for renewable energy generation, civil engineering for rail projects and a domestic airline called Stobart Air.
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Invesco, Stobart’s biggest shareholder with a 25% stake, has said it is backing Mr Ferguson and the rest of the board.?
A spokesman for Mr Tinkler declined to comment on his letter to shareholders.