FAIRFAX Media chairman Ron Walker is expected to step down at the company’s annual meeting in November.
Mr Walker, who had pledged to stand for re-election and serve until August, told BusinessDay last night he would recommend Woolworths’ former chief executive, Roger Corbett, as his successor.
”I will be meeting with Roger and the major (Fairfax) shareholders on Monday and Tuesday to determine their views on a possible succession program should I not stand for re-election at the annual general meeting,” he said.
The Fairfax boardroom has been bitterly divided, with John B. Fairfax and his son Nicholas opposing Mr Walker’s re-election, and Mr Corbett and other independent directors supporting Mr Walker.
The decision by the chairman to fall on his sword should help to resolve the impasse, sources said last night.
A spokesperson for Marinya Media said: ”We have acknowledged Roger’s strengths. Roger’s re-election is a matter for shareholders.”
Long-standing divisions in the Fairfax boardroom turned into outright hostilities last Thursday after Mr Walker announced he would retire on August 10 next year.
Later that day, Mr Fairfax’s Marinya Media, which owns 9.7 per cent of the company, issued a statement highly critical of Mr Walker and pledging to vote against his re-election at the AGM.
Mr Walker and his board allies responded by challenging Mr Fairfax’s critical statement. The five independent directors said they supported Mr Walker.
Both the Fairfax and Walker factions claim they have the support of major institutional investors in the company. The claims will be tested next week when Mr Walker visits shareholders to canvass support for the succession of Mr Corbett.
Mr Fairfax has called for ”renewal” on the board in light of the company’s lack of strategic direction and poor share price performance.
Mr Corbett, who is in the US, raised strategic differences when he publicly criticised what he referred to as ”a very one-sided statement” released by Marinya Media.
He said the statement did not acknowledge strategies adopted by the board to diversify Fairfax Media, owner of The Age, away from its traditional metropolitan newspaper mastheads.
Mr Corbett also said Mr Fairfax and his son had voted in favour of all the acquisitions made by Fairfax. Marinya Media’s statement last week highlighted an ”unacceptable degree of risk” from ”debt-funded acquisitions”.
Also yesterday, a former editor of The Australian Financial Review, Gerard Noonan, a former publisher of The Age, Steve Harris, and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne nominated for the board elections.
”The last thing the company needs is the latest display of corporate madness, more reminiscent of testosterone-fuelled activity of ageing bulls in the bottom paddock,” Mr Noonan wrote in his nomination.