Directors Removed But One Reappointed at Telit

More interesting events at the Telit Communications (TCM) AGM yesterday. This is a company that has been through troubled times of late with the departure of former CEO Oozi Cats under a cloud and lots of questions about their accounts being raised. But events at the AGM were even more surprising when the Chairman Richard Kilsby and two other non-executive directors were voted off the board on a poll. The meeting lasted all of ten minutes apparently.

Existing non-executive director Simon Duffy took over as Interim Chairman and one of the removed directors, Miriam Greenwood, was promptly reappointed (i.e. co-opted to the board). This was so as to ensure the “board and its committees continue to be quorate with an appropriate number of independent, non-executive directors” according to the announcement by the company.

Is it legal for a board to reappoint a director just removed by a vote of shareholders? The answer is yes unless a resolution was passed to the contrary. Whether it is acceptable practice is another matter altogether.

I have come across this situation once before at Victoria where the Chairperson reappointed someone just removed by a vote of shareholders. I did not like it then when the justification given was the need to have at least two directors to maintain the company’s listing. I recall saying at the time: “is there nobody else in the company who is willing to step forward”. The Chairperson was subsequently removed by shareholders.

Does the justification for re-appointing a removed director by the Telit board make any sense? Not really in my view. Board committees don’t sit frequently and new non-executive directors can usually be recruited relatively quickly. Perhaps the board anticipated some problems in that regard as joining this board might be perceived as being risky. But Telit is an AIM company so is not bound by the UK Corporate Governance Code regarding the number of independent directors and composition of board committees and nor is there any AIM Market Rule that I am aware of that would require them to immediately appoint another non-executive director. Even if the company is adhering to some other corporate governance code, the rules are typically “comply or explain” and obviously the company would have a good explanation for non-compliance.

It would seem to me that the board simply considered it a good idea to reappoint Miriam Greenwood, but when shareholders have voted to remove her, I suggest she should have stayed removed. Shareholders views and rights should not be abused in this manner. It is surely time for the FCA or FRC to lay down some guidelines on what is permissible in such circumstances as the Companies Act does not cover it.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )

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The Internet of Things – Telit and Tern

Most investors in AIM will have noted the unfolding news at Telit Communications (TCM) last week. It has culminated today with an announcement from the company that CEO Oozi Cats (a.k.a. Uzi Katz) has resigned after an independent review did indeed find that he was the subject of a US indictment 25 years ago which had not been disclosed to the board. However, they denied that other allegations about the operations and finance of the company were true. Specifically, they said “there is no substance to the speculative and accusatory articles that have been published and that it stands behind the Group’s audited accounts to 31 December 2016 and the most recently published interim statement”. Will the publisher receive yet another threat of legal action as a result? We will see, although companies are reluctant to spend time and money on such cases and it is more difficult for them (as opposed to individuals) following recent changes in libel law.

Is this yet another example of how AIM regulation is defective? The simple answer is no. Both I and ShareSoc have campaigned for improvements in that area, and the LSE have recently published a paper entitled “AIM Rules Review” which has some helpful suggestions.

But the alleged legal problems of the CEO and his wife were 20 years before the company even listed on AIM in 2015 so no amount of due diligence was likely to have discovered that issue. The more recent allegations – which are about possible fraud at the company – are not an issue of AIM regulation. Possibly more an auditing issue if any such problem exists, which the company clearly denies. However, one has to question the willingness of AIM to list companies based in foreign countries some years back. Why did they list on AIM rather than in Israel or the USA for example? Possibly because they thought there would be less scrutiny. There does appear to be more examination of new listings of late and it’s covered in the paper mentioned above also.

Now I have never invested in Telit, although I have looked at it more than once in the past. There were several aspects about this company (other than the country of residence) that put me off. The nature of the product was one – albeit it’s operating in a hot sector but was there good protectable IP? Others were the lumpy nature of hardware orders, the directors and their pay, the issue of director share sales, the failure to turn profits into cash, the repeated fund raisings…..I could go on.

In summary, this is the kind of company I do not want to own.

It’s probably just another example of a persuasive CEO encouraging investors, often unsophisticated private investors, to punt on a concept of rapid growth in a hot technology sector.

Interestingly another company focused on the “Internet of Things” sector is investment company Tern (TERN) who raised some funds via platform Primary Bid over the weekend via a placing and open offer. The latter closed early due to the demand. Indeed, the COO of Primary Bid said: “We are delighted to have facilitated the fundraise for Tern plc. It was good to see such strong demand for this Offer, demonstrating how popular Technology related companies can be with tech savvy PrimaryBid Investors. More than 50% of all investors subscribing for this offer did so via a mobile device”. Note particularly the last sentence.

I had a quick look at Tern, but had great difficulty in valuing the company because it’s largest investment by a long way is a holding in a company named Device Authority Ltd. Is there any information provided on the revenue or profits of that company in the announcements about the fund raising or in recent past company announcements, or are there any recently published accounts filed at Companies House for this UK registered company? Apparently not, so any “due diligence” is difficult. But Tern does not look expensive at face value because of their revaluation of the investment in Device Authority last year by the company in the same way as any other private equity investment is valued.

Is this another case of over-enthusiasm by private investors to get into this high tech world? We shall no doubt see in due course.

There is another thing which Telit and Tern have in common. They have both been harassed by the same “journalist”. Indeed, director Angus Forrest of Tern even went so far as to report him to the police for harassment in 2015 although the matter was not pursued (harassment can be both a criminal law and civil law case).

Investors are recommended to take a cold shower whenever anyone talks about hot technology sectors. A lot of businesses in them never turn a profit, or give a decent return on investment. You just have to look at the early history of Apple – now the largest company in the world by market cap – to see how tortuous and extended can be the path to success. And most of their early competitors simply disappeared.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )

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