A businessman who now owns the biggest share in Johnston Press has accused the publisher of “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” following the announcement of chief executive Ashley Highfield’s departure.
Christen Ager-Hanssen, whose Custos Group investment vehicle owns 20pc of the regional publisher, has revealed he intends to increase his holding to 29.9pc ahead of its annual general meeting next month.
But while Christen welcomed Ashley’s decision to step down as CEO, he was dismissive of the board reshuffle which will see chief financial officer David King take on the role after the AGM.
Ashley announced he was standing down for “family reasons” last week after six and a half years as chief executive.
Christen told HTFP: “I’m very happy that the board have taken our view on the situation with Highfield. He was a disaster for the company.
“Let’s hope we now can move forward and sort out the mess he created in Johnston Press plc.”
Taking aim at the board, Christen added: “The board is doing no more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They literally have no clue as to how create shareholder value.
“They do not understand the concept of monetisation of audience in the digital age. They have no credible strategy. Period.”
Christen had previously assembled a team touted to take control of the board, which would have seen former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond become chairman and ex-Local World boss Steve Auckland become chief executive.
However, he abandoned those plans in March in favour of what he described as a “wait and see” strategy.
Christen’s new plan to acquire a 29.9pc shareholding in the publisher falls short of a full takeover, which he would be ogliged to launch should his stake cross the 30pc threshold.
When asked by HTFP whether plans were afoot for a takeover bid, he responded: “The only plan we have is to increase to 29.9pc.”
Johnston Press has declined to comment.