Shareholders oust Praemium board; Ohanessian return seen likely

Shareholders of ASX-listed, Melbourne-based platform provider Praemium today voted to remove and replace four of the company’s directors, including its chairman, Greg Camm, in the latest development in an ongoing boardroom battle that began earlier this year.

It wasn’t immediately known whether the board change would result in a return to Praemium of Michael Ohanessian, pictured, whose job as chief executive was terminated on 22 February, and whose departure prompted certain key investors to call for a change in the company’s management. However, media reports out of Australia today noted that it is thought Ohanessian’s reinstatement by the new directors is likely.

Among the publications predicting his return was The Australian, which noted that “a former chief executive being reinstated after being backed by shareholders is thought to be unprecedented in Australia”.

The announcement of the removal of the four Praemium directors  – Camm, Andre Carstens, Peter Mahler and Robert Edgley, and the appointment in their stead of Barry Lewin as chairman, Stuart Robertson and Daniel Lipshut – followed a general meeting today, which had been called by the board in response to a request by shareholders.

If Ohanessian is reinstated, he would replace interim CEO Robert De Luca, a former Bankwest managing director.

In a statement, Camm said: “The effect of this voting is that the incumbent board of directors will be replaced by a new board, comprising Lewin, Robertson and Lipshut.

“The shareholders have spoken and a new board is appointed. Praemium is a good business, with very good people, and the outgoing board give Lewin and his colleagues our best wishes in governing the company.”

The Financial Standard, an Australian financial publication that has been covering what it referred to in a recent headline as Praemium’s “bunfight”, today quoted the chief financial officer of Abercrombie Group, a key Praemium shareholder, as saying: “We are pleased that our fellow Praemium shareholders supported our resolutions. We have full confidence that the newly elected independent board will govern in the best interests of all shareholders.

“Praemium is now able to move forward positively, and focus on creating long term shareholder value.”

Boardroom  tensions

According to Australian media reports, there had been tensions in the Praemium boardroom for some time, but they became public in February in the wake of the company’s unexpected  termination of Ohanessian, its CEO of five years, which, as certain of the shareholders who weren’t happy about Ohanessian’s dismissal pointed out, came just a week after the company had delivered a 39% EBITDA growth in its half-year results.

Following pressure from these shareholders and Ohanessian himself, Praemium formally acknowledged a “shareholder request for [a] meeting”, which is what took place this morning, Melbourne time.

The outspoken shareholders included Paradice Investment Management, the Abercrombie Group, and Australian Ethical Super, which together hold about 17% of Praemium’s stock.

Praemium was founded in 2001 in Australia by Arthur Naodoumidis, a former IT consultant, and listed on the ASX in May, 2006. In addition to Australia, it maintains offices in Jersey, Hong Kong and the UK, where it has been present since 2008. It specialises in separately-managed investment accounts, and says it currently has more than 300,000 active investor accounts, in addition to looking after more than 700 financial institution clients.

Last year, as reported,  it acquired Wensley Mackay Ltd, a UK SIPP provider.

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