The businessman behind a bid to overthrow the Johnston Press board has dropped the idea of Alex Salmond becoming chairman of the regional publisher – saying he would prefer to install someone with a “deep understanding of technology”.
Christen Ager-Hanssen had previously touted the former Scottish First Minister for the role, but has now confirmed the plan has been shelved.
Christen said in March he was planning to adopt a “wait and see” strategy instead of launching a planned boardroom coup, which would also have seen ex-Local World boss Steve Auckland become chief executive.
But the decision to officially drop Mr Salmond now by Christen, whose Custos Group investment vehicle owns more than 20pc of the company, comes days after the JP board challenged him to come up with a “workable proposal” to refinance the business.
Christen previously wrote to the company’s board over what he called “speculation among investors” about its future, claiming directors may be planning to place JP into administration, but the board said in a statement yesterday that it had not received “any plan or proposal from any party for a refinancing or restructuring of its debt”.
Yesterday the company’s share price increased from under 3p to 8p, but in the statement the board said it knew of “no reason” for the change.
The share price rose again this morning to above 9p for a period.
Of his decision to drop Mr Salmond, pictured, Christen told HTFP: “At the time we initiated this it may have been the right thing to do, but at this stage it’s all about putting together a team with a deep understanding of technology and media companies, and also the aspect I find most interesting which is a way of dealing with the declining advertising revenue industry.
“You need to have someone that has that understanding to chair this board.”
When asked by HTFP whether he had anyone specifically in mind, Christen added: “We’re going to do it a little bit step by step to wait and see. First of all you need to get through the restructuring of the bond, then you’re going to put a board in place that’s going to move the company forward.”
The company, whose titles include the i newspaper, The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post, has been in discussions for months over ways of refinancing £220m worth of debt that becomes repayable on 1 June 2019.
Last month HTFP reported that one of the options being looked at includes offloading its pension scheme to the Pensions Protection Fund, allowing a new owner to take control free of pension liabilities.
Christen told HTFP he would reply to the company with his “thinking” on the refinancing issue “some time next week”.
Mr Salmond said: “Mr Ager-Hanssen, as major shareholder in Johnston Press, is now focused on restructuring the ailing group rather than changing the board. I wish him luck in what will be a very hard task.”
Johnston Press declined to comment.