Battling Shareholder Touts Own-Choice CEO for VNU

19 April 2006

Eric Knight, managing director of New York-headquartered investment firm Knight Vinke Asset Management told a high-octane meeting of VNU shareholders yesterday he had identified a "world class" candidate to helm the rudderless media and research giant.

The appointment of such a candidate - whom Knight declined to name - hangs on whether or not divided shareholders decide to back the VNU board's acceptance of a €7.5 billion ($9.21bn; £5.18bn) takeover tabled by a group of private-equity firms [WAMN: 08-Mar-06].

According to Knight, Mr Right is the chairman of another large company, who is "available and wants the job." Knight told the meeting he also has other ceo candidates up his sleeve.

Knight and other dissident shareholders have been at odds with VNU's management over the private equity bid, claiming the price is too low and that the company had not adequately explored other options.

However, this was robustly refuted by Rob Ruijter, cfo and executive board member of the embattled company, in a lengthy presentation to stockholders. "Every effort," he said had been made to get the highest price and no other bidders were in the offing.

Ruiter, who some observers believe to be making his own play for the vacant ceo position, made it clear he doesn't intend to resign if the current bid is rejected. "Only if shareholders want me to go, I'll step down," he said.

Yesterday's informal meeting was held in place of the originally scheduled AGM and no votes were taken. Shareholders have until May 5 to tender their shares to the private-equity buyers, though Ruijter said the deadline will be extended if VNU fails to get enough support for the bid.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff