A bitter row at the heart of one of the Midlands’ oldest carpet makers has escalated over claims an incentive scheme would make a group of shareholders £12 million – but only if the business is broken up.
Alan Bullock, managing director of Victoria Carpets, said a plan by a group led by Alexander Anton, the great-grandson of its founder, could put the future of the 117-year-old company under threat.
The row has split the Anton family, with cousins backing different factions ahead of a key general meeting.
The Kidderminster company has been locked in a boardroom battle for months, and the latest dispute surrounds plans which would see Mr Anton and others receive a “substantial share” of returns made to shareholders, which Mr Bullock described as “morally indefensible”.
He said they were attempting to seize control of the board to take advantage of the fact its net asset value is almost double its market capitalisation – meaning they could make as much as £12 million, but only, he believes, by selling or breaking up the business.
But Mr Anton has hit back, telling the Post he had the support of two-thirds of shareholders, including Anton family members who had devoted their lives to the firm.
Mr Anton, who recently resigned as a non-executive director, has called a general meeting along with the rest of his consortium to install himself as a director, and said he was acting to make changes to a management team that had failed to make the UK operation consistently profitable.
Speaking of the plans outlined by the consortium when they were still on Victoria’s board, Mr Bullock said: “Their strategy was to break up the business and sell it off.
“The only way they could return £3 to shareholders would be to sell off the Australian business and return to sell off the UK business.”
He added: “They actually invited me to be part of this scheme and I said I am not interested and I can’t be bought, even for £1 million. They were offering me a 10 per cent share.
“I think it is morally indefensible for non-executives to receive remuneration in that way and I don’t agree with breaking up a business that has been in existence for 117 years and employs hundreds of people in Australia.
“It would be against all my conscience,” he added. “I have worked here for over 40 years. I love and care for this company and I can’t sit by and help these people break up the company that I love.”
Mr Anton, along with Geoff Wilding and Sir Bryan Nicholson, resigned from the board in March, six months after their consortium won a vote that saw them installed as non-executive directors.
Mr Bullock said that in the first meeting after the previous takeover the trio proposed they would return £3 per share to shareholders and keep 50 per cent of any additional value created.
He said he would personally stand to make £1 million under the plans but branded them ‘morally wrong’.