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Ager-Hanssen attacks ‘insane’ JP board as he ups shareholding to 25pc

Ager newThe biggest investor in up-for-sale Johnston Press has vowed to block what he called “insane actions” by the company’s board after increasing his shareholding to more than 25pc.

The regional publisher announced it was putting itself up for sale last week after failing to come up with a refinancing package to pay off its £220m debt.

Its biggest shareholder Christen Ager-Hanssen, left, has announced that his Custos Group has increased its shareholding from 20.1pc to more than 25pc, saying this will allow him to be “more active”.

His increased stake means that were any offers to come in for JP he could effectively block a sale of 100pc of the business – although he would not necessarily be able to prevent the sale of individual assets.

JP’s board has made clear that its ideal outcome from the current sale process would to find a buyer for the whole company, which employs 2,141 staff across the UK and publishes more than 200 regional and local newspaper brands.

But chief executive David King has said there is a “very strong likelihood” that bidders will move to break up the business by trying to buy particular assets.

In a statement announcing his increased shareholding, Mr Ager-Hanssen launched a wide-ranging and strongly-worded attack on the JP board, accusing it of “greed, selfishness and unaccountability.”

And he claimed the company’s current management “never had a credible strategy” for how to monetize its audience in the digital age.

He said: “The long and proud 250 year history of Johnston Press has now been replaced by a more recent and tragic history of rampant fee-sucking by its negligent board and incompetent advisers. And with the board’s new strategy to sell its crown-jewels, the fee-sucking will simply increase. Sadly, JP has become a textbook case of shareholder-value destruction.

“The chairwoman of JP, Camilla Rhodes, and her team literally have no clue as to how to relate shareholder value. They do not understand the concept of monetisation of audience in the digital age. They never had a credible strategy.

“Such cluelessness, coupled with the board’s greed, self-interest and unaccountability are the reasons that Johnston Press inevitably ended up in the mess they now are in.

“Custos is of the opinion that as major shareholder we have a responsibility to be active and vocal and to fight this sort of mismanagement, breach of fiduciary duty and the culture of greed and self-interest so clearly displayed by a few cozy fat cats interested more in themselves than their shareholders and hard-working employees.

“Custos is proud to be an activist shareholder fighting for all stakeholders’ benefit. With Custos increased shareholding of more than 25pc we are in a position to be more active and ensure some of the more insane board or adviser actions can be blocked.

“Custos obviously have no confidence in the board or its advisers but our increased holding prove that we continue to have confidence in the underlying business. Employees, at all levels, have been reaching out to me from within JP, excited by the prospect of change and offering Custos their support. They crave new leadership and a proper forward thinking strategy fit for the digital age.”

In his statement, Mr Ager-Hanssen went on to accuse the board of “corporate theft of power from all shareholders” over a “poison pill” clause established in the company’s bond agreement, which effectively prevented him from launching a takeover bid for the company last year.

The so-called “poison pill” means that the £220m bonds would immediately become repayable in the event of a change of ownership.

Mr Ager-Hanssen had previously demanded the removal of Ms Rhodes and non-executive director Mike Butterworth, and their replacement by former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and former Local World boss Steve Auckland.

A Johnston Press spokesman said: “We launched the formal sale process last week so that interested parties could make offers for the company. That process continues and remains our focus.”


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  • October 19, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Good lad the Viking. But does he really have a plan to make digital pay and protect jobs?

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  • October 19, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    It’s used in quote instead of its. It’s a common error still. Story really doesn’t add much. Good luck JP people.

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  • October 20, 2018 at 1:56 am

    He won’t make digital pay either. It can’t be done. He needs to re-invest in the 200+ local weeklies and make them attractive again. JP and Ashley Highfield tried to force digital on readers by murdering print products with a death by a 1000 cuts. It only succeeded in a drastic drop in circulations and few ads on the websites. Why not turn that around and give people back a good print product only using the Web page to promote that weeks paper and some coverage of breaking news. Get the readers back and the advertisers will follow. No-one wants to advertise on something as small as a mobile phone screen. Face it digital can’t be properly monetised that’s its fatal weakness.

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  • October 22, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    The Viking started buying shares when JP was worth around £25 mill and not the current £2 mill valuation. Action earlier by the board could have maybe saved the business in its entirety but its too late now. Maybe the Viking is putting himself in position to buy the I paper to salvage a return on his JP adventure. He won’t want to buy newspapers that have been run into the ground, lost their impact in communities and have no future. Or will he?

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  • October 22, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Neither JP not any other of the larger regional publishers will invest in their once popular, now dying papers @DeadDigital, they’ve put their eggs in the digital basket, have failed to monetise their online news and certainly won’t be doing a U turn and go back to throwing good money after bad into papers which long ago lost their audiences and which continue to wither month after month.
    The new breed of local publisher is capturing the local community news sector and all are growing readers and advertisers issue by issue.
    Time to stop all this hankering for the past and wishing the big players would kick start their papers, they won’t, they’ve made their digital beds now must lie on them, time to move on.

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  • October 23, 2018 at 9:09 am

    To think JP or the any of the bigger regional publishing groups will suddenly try and recapture their lost reader and advertising markets by pumping money into dead and dying papers @DeadDigitalHorse,is naive and pure wishful thinking.
    JP and others abandoned their local paper portfolios some years ago by dumbing down the content and assuming,foolishly,that come what may, local people would always buy their papers.
    Wind the clock on a couple of years and with no one managing to commercialise digital news sites all find themselves caught between 2 posts;print in free fall, digital impossible to monetise.

    You have to wish the Viking every success but how he can make a go of what’s left of the business is anyone’s guess, one things for sure it’s a worrying time for those arrogantly urged to “carry on with business as normal” and who wait to find out what will eventually transpire.

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  • October 26, 2018 at 12:28 am

    I tire so much of reading the clueless anti-digital comments on these pages. JP are in a mess largely because they blew £160m on the Scotsman just before the financial crash. Their situation has nothing to do with their digital strategy (or lack of it).

    As Phillip says, wishing for investment in print and a return to the good old days is utter naivety. JP have no money to invest, and doing so would make minimal difference to sales that are in decline for a multitude of reasons.

    Those of us who are fortunate enough to work for companies without £220m of debt need to focus on making digital work as best as we can, because it won’t be long before it’s our only option.

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  • October 27, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    Wishing the Viking all success as he and everyone in the industry knows the current problem is to do with the vast array of unproductive “managers” in the current JP setup who have absolutely no experience of their largest income stream – press advertising. This big band of seriously overpaid one track (digital) minds stripped out their ad sales departments believing the advertisers would be happy to see their ads on a smart phone screen. Worse still they actually thought that local and regional advertisers would be happy to deal with a call centre to place their ads! The Viking and his crew will do well when they reverse this ridiculous situation that has all but destroyed the local press in many parts of this country.

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  • October 29, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    The DeadDigitalHorse needs to accept local daily and weekly papers are the dead things, not digital,yes we might not like it, and yes we’d love to be living in times when tens of thousands of local papers are sold but we’re not.
    Print revenues are in rapid decline while commercialising digital output is proving a nigh on impossible task but the fact is,local papers are in their death throes, they’re beyond recovery and no publisher will invest money they don’t have into products so few are buying. All carry high cost bases, require large numbers of staff, are costly to produce and return less and less revenue as each month passes.
    As Zenithar says,very very soon digital news will be all the bigger regional publishers will have left as the smaller local independents will take the printed news markets so can I suggest you forget stressing yourself out over a rebirth of local papers by the big groups DDH, there won’t be one!

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